To appreciate the value of silicone, it is necessary first to understand the nature of other rubbers more commonly used to create sex toys.
The majority of rubber sex-toys are comprised of low cost, hard rubbers like vinyl and latex: raw materials found in abundance and inexpensive to manufacture, that are only made squishy and soft with the addition of harsh chemicals called plasticisers. These rubbers have chemical structures that degrade under repeated flexing and compression, eventually causing tears and material failure. These common rubbers are porous materials, riddled with tiny holes that readily harbor dirt and bacteria, and are unable to be safely sterilized because of their low melting points and lack of chemical resiliance.
SIlicone, on the other hand, contains zero plasticisers. Silicone rubber is a complex specifically engineered material which is synthesized at great expense from silica: one of the most abundant compounds on earth: a major component of glass and found naturally occuring in sand and quartz rock.
Because of it's chemical properties, silicone is primarily nonreactive and hypoallergenic, displaying extreme bio-compatibility and making it a very popular component of medical, pharmaceutical and beauty products, to name only a few.
SIlicone rubber, unlike the vast majority of rubbers, is non-porous so it does not readily harbor bacteria, and silicone can be safely heated to upwards of 400 degrees fahrenheit and treated with cleansers for sterilization without degradation.
These a are some of the technical reasons silicone is a superior material for sextoys; but, in the end, silicone just feels much better, is more supple and skin-like than any other rubber. This similarity to skin combined with silicone's skin-safe biocompatibility is why the medical community employs silicone for it's medical prosthetics and the Hollywood Special Effects industry for it's makeup prosthetic appliances and creature creations.
Plasticisers are alarmingly harsh chemicals added to hard rubbers to make them softer. Unfortunately, these plasticisers slowly separate from, and leach out of, the rubber toy and into the toy's immediate environment, causing the distinctive odor associated with most rubber sex toys, and inducing the burning/stinging sensation that many feel when these toys are used. In effect, these toys hurt because the escaping plasticisers come into contact with the sensitive, highly absorbent intestinal mucous membrane.
Not everyone is sensitive to the burning caused by these compounds. Some people feel nothing that would indicate something may be wrong and are able to use these toys comfortably and unawares. But very many do feel a reaction and, lacking this vital information, have no way to understand that it is these chemicals, and not "sextoys in general" that cause them discomfort. It is a shame, but no surprise that once "burned," most people have no interest in trying sextoys again. "Once bitten, twice shy."
Alarmingly, these very same plasticisers have been outlawed by the FDA in the composition of any plastics or rubbers that will come into contact with human food (i.e. "food grade plastics") and toys (the kind played with by children) due to health concerns. Why plasticizers have not similarly been forbidden in the creation of sex toys is a function of the puritanical prejudices of our society and, of course, the finances involved.
The emission of plasticisers out of rubber toys also accounts for the gradual shrinking, hardening, and cracking most sex toys undergo over time.
SIlicone is a synthetic material (not naturally occuring like other rubbers) which must be manufactured via a complex and expensive industrial process that transforms quartz mineral into a highly viscous liquid which, when properly combined with a liquid catalyst, vulcanizes (hardens) into silicone rubber. A gallon supply of the two-part rubber combination (silicone/catalyst) costs upwards of $200.
In addition, Silicone is a difficult material to work in. Production is labor intensive requiring specific industrial equipment and a high degree of specialized training and experience.
All of this combined results in a high cost of production and thus a higher retail price than other rubbers.
It is a matter of personal choice whether the superior qualities that silicone achieves are worth the extra cost incurred in it's creation.
The durometer (measurement of Shore hardness in a rubber) of silicone varies from toy to toy, but in general:
Soft: Shore 00-20 to 00-30
Firm: Shore 2A to 20A
SoftSkin: Shore 00-20 to 00-30
HardCore: Shore 20A to 37A
For more information on Shore hardness see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shore_durometer
Silicone toys are hardy, and simple consideration is all they require. They should be cleaned and allowed to dry after each use. Ideally, they should be kept separate from non-silicone toys, as the harsh chemicals that other toys may contain are best avoided and could harm the silicone.
Softer silicones may, over time, become imprinted if pressed against forcibly by a hard material, so its best not to store them, for example, on wire shelves or under a pile of heavy metal chains, etc.
Simple, economical plastic bins are ideal for storage and will help keep dust from accumulating on the toy's surface.
Silicone has an unparalleled ability to maintain its integrity indefinitely despite being repeatedly compressed or flexed ( i.e. the stresses most often involved with dildo and plug usage), whereas other rubbers will suffer increasing wear and tear and will, eventually, fail.
When stretched to extremes, silicone becomes susceptible to tear propagation, which is the potential for tiny nicks or creases to advance suddenly and swiftly through the material. Therefore, extreme stretching of cockrings and ballstretchers is not reccomended. The practise of "Doubling-Up" (or wrapping the cockrig around twice) constitutes a sort of "Cockring Russian Roulette." Sooner or later... "POP!" So its best to be mindful and avoid over-stretching your silicone.
[By their very nature, dildos and plugs are rarely exposed to such extreme stretching forces, so are not at risk of tear propagation)
Unfortunately, no. While there are silicone adhesives meant specifically to join silicone to silicone, they are quite expensive and do not achieve a bond anywhere near the strength of the original single piece. They are meant for use with a filament matrix backbone and so do not achieve their intended result in this instance.
Generally, no. Lube is not inherently bad for silicone toys. To be more specific, lube can be roughly categorized as one of three types: water-based, grease-based, or silicone-based.
- Water-based: The least aggressive and most common form of lube certainly does not chemically harm silicone. It's fairly inert, and while powdered versions can prove extremely slippery, all water-based formulations tend to dry-up as the water base gradually evaporates or is absorbed into the skin, thus changing the effective feel of the lube from slippery to sticky.
Also of note, the water that forms their base is the principle conduit of life, allowing for bacteria and such to grow and thrive unless controlled by means of added preservatives, unpleasant chemicals which lend the lube a nasty taste (hence the abundance of "flavored" water-based lubes which try to conceal the nasty chemical taste by adding nasty fruit flavorings, etc.)
-Grease-based: Grease based lubes are great in that they grab hold of the toy and don't let go. They are generally petroleum based (e.g. Vasoline) or vegetable shortening/fat based (e.g. Crisco.) Unlike water based lubes, they do not evaporate but will cling to the toy until removed with grease cutting soap. The difficulty of removing the grease from the toys and bodies and bedsheets it contacts is a concern for many people. I say you cant have your cake and eat it too. If u want your lube to last, you have to deal with the associated difficulty of removing it. A dishwashing/grease-cutting soap will make clean up much easier.
-Silicone based: There is much controversy about the risk of silicone lube damaging silicone toys. I am a silicone lube fanatic, and I use ID Velvet exclusivey. It has never damaged my toys, but I cannot say for a fact that other silicone lubes can not harm silicone toys. I've heard from friends who produce silicone lube that the quality of silicone lubes varies greatly. It makes a certain kind of sense to imagine that if a particular lube contains an abundance of silicone solvents that it might over time cause solid silicone to dissolve or deteriorate. Again, with my lube this has not been my experience at all. My personal toys have never shown any sign of deterioration, and they are exposed to silicone lube daily, some for over 10 years. Could some silicone lube containing rogue silicone solvents possibly harm silicone toys? I can't say absolutely not, but I consider this akin to an urban legend, born of imagination, suggestion, and misinformation rather than empirical fact. My suggestion is to stick with high quality silicone lubes and clean your toys regularly.