Good quality sex toys can be ridiculously expensive, especially considering many of them are just moulded blobs of silicone. So when you find a Chinese site like selling silicone buttplugs, dildos, cock rings and more – at less than half the typical price – you might be tempted to buy them. So I did just that, for science. And here’s the most shocking thing: as far as I can tell, they’re identical to the “real thing” (*as long as you use a bit of common sense).

Yes, you did just read that correctly. Let’s take a closer look at some cheap sex toys direct from China.

What’s the Problem?

Sometimes, sex toys are sold as “silicone”, but actually made of TPR, jelly, PVC, or some other nasty toxic plastic. These materials are porous, harbour bacteria, can never really be cleaned, and may just be outright painful to insert anywhere. In my clueless past, I’ve bought quite a few toys that I had to throw away immediately because of an allergic reaction to the jelly material. My mouth and ass have been left stinging for hours after using them. Even if you don’t get a horrible reaction to jelly toys, they’ll almost certainly degrade quickly. They may even react with other toys to create a level 6 gelatinous puddle worthy of any edition of the Monster Manual.

Silicone toys will never cause this kind of reaction. They’re colorless, odorless, (mostly) non-porous, and easy to clean with bleach solution or by boiling them.

So What Did I Buy?

First up was this rechargeable (via USB) prostate stimulator, which I bought for around $20. From what I can tell, it features a couple of motors, and countless vibration modes. I don’t have anything to compare to, but it feels about as powerful and rumbly as I’d expect from something this small. Is it actually silicone? Yes. It leaves no oily residue on your hands, and doesn’t smell of anything in particular.

How much did we save? It’s difficult to find an exact match for this one, but the Lelo Bruno looks like the closest. That costs $170. It also features two motors, and 6 different vibration modes. The only thing our cheap clone is missing is a remote control, which the Bruno has. Is that worth the additional $155? I’d struggle to justify that.

Next, was this anal plug cock ring. Nothing fancy, just a blob of moulded silicone. It cost around $3 (and that includes delivery from across the world). It’s definitely silicone, and works as intended. It’s remarkably comfortable, stays in, and does the job intended. Definitely a win here.

How much did we save? On LoveHoney, this Anal Fantasy AssGasm cock ring is an exact match, costing $23. That’s around five times the cost, for an identical and very simple product.

Next up, an inflatable butt plug (yes, fine, I admit I went a bit butt-mad on this particular shopping spree). This was $8-ish. The inflation bulb and tube are silicone, while the insertable part is likely latex or PVC. The problem with silicone is that it isn’t that great at inflating, so I bought this on the understanding the inflatable part would almost certainly not be silicone. The product photos indicated it likely wasn’t, and they were accurate photos. Still, it was $8 for f*** sake. It works, but I don’t recommend this one – the flared base is too pliable and not wide enough, so after 15 minutes of squirming around, tied up and in a straitjacket, it slipped fully inside and was quite irritating. At least for me, a wider or more solid flare is needed. Fine if you’re careful and have full control of your hands though, I’d say.

How much did we save? This Cock Locker inflatable plug looks basically the same, the only difference being the metal valve. It costs $43, so that’s a 90% saving.

Finally, we grabbed this hot pink silicone strap-on for $7, and I forgot to take photos, so that’s the product image from the sales page. It has a basic nylon strap, with a PVC and fabric crotch, but the insertable is silicone with a strong ABS base. It’s great, it works, and it’s exactly as described and as shown in the photo. As far as beginner strap-ons go, it’s perfectly functional and comfortable for the wearer. Unfortunately, the seller (BlackWolf) decided to ship the product in a flimsy bubble packet and write “dildo” on the customs label, which I’m almost certain the postman had a good laugh at. (Packages from other sellers were all labelled “toy”, I should note)

How much did we save? No exact match on LoveHoney, but this Bondage Boutique 6-inch Strap-On is the closest match, on sale at $30. That’s less of a saving than other items, but still a good 75% cheaper.

So What’s the Difference?

There is none. There’s no great secret or conspiracy here. There’s always a risk in buying directly from China: you might be hit by import duty, or the seller may be using fake photographs. Packages take anywhere from 2 weeks to 2 months to arrive. But most of the time, online and high street retailers are buying their goods from the same factories. They have overheads, staffing costs, taxes and a profit to make. This typically means a five or more times markup on the exact same products.

The idea that silicone toys need to be expensive is simply not true. As long as you’re looking for unbranded toys, you can buy high-quality toys made from actual silicone, direct from China – for a lot less than you think.

How Do I Know If I’m Buying Actual Silicone Products Then?

The photos are usually enough, assuming they’re actual product photos. Unbranded silicone toys usually come in either a dull black, fluorescent pink or purple, or cloudy translucent (natural) color. All have a matte surface, with no reflections at all. If the photo is some kind of shiny or fully transparent material, it’s not silicone.

Here’s a great example. This “silicone” strap-on belt thing is clearly made of PVC. The high glossiness and light reflections of the toy gives the game away immediately:

This is not silicone, it’s PVC

This “silicone masturbator” is too transparent to be silicone. The product title also contradicts the product description, which more accurately states TPE (the most common material for strokers). It’s obvious the title is just stuffed full of keywords.

Note that product descriptions will also vary wildly within stores, so never trust the text alone. Many stores will list the same product multiple times with different keywords in order to capture different product searches. And just because you’ve bought from a store before and the description has been accurate doesn’t mean it’ll be reliable for other products!

Ultimately, it’s a bit of a learning journey. If you can’t tell silicone apart from other materials just by looking at a product photo, you’ll need to make some mistakes first. I certainly did. I’ve had painful reactions to Phthalates in PVC toys, and I’ve had toys meld themselves together in my drawer as they reacted with themselves.

Like any online shopping site, AliExpress can attract scammers. Use a bit of common sense though, and you’ll find some absolute bargains. Quality sex toys needn’t be expensive.