People impact the environment in everything we do. But the overall impact of our sex lives and, in particular, the waste generated in the process, are rarely discussed and often underestimated. However, in 2020, more than 35 billion condoms were sold, used and thrown away globally. While your safety while making love still remains the top concern, we can’t miss the opportunity to add an eco-friendly perspective on this topic, in the lead up to World Sexual Health Day on September 4th.
As we all know, personal protection is very important while having sex. The impact (both personally and environmentally) of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) or an unwanted pregnancy will be much higher than the impact of contraceptives. So we’re not here to convince you to have totally zero waste sex. But read on for some options on how to protect yourself and your partner more sustainably.
Male condoms are the most popular contraception method as they protect partners from STDs and unplanned pregnancy. However, when it comes to the end-of-life management of used condoms, the options are limited to just one: throwing it away. Most conventional condoms are made of synthetic (fossil fuel-based) materials like latex, polyisoprene or polyurethane. None of these are biodegradable or recyclable. Even condoms made of natural latex won’t biodegrade in your compost heap because chemical additives make them far from natural. This type of waste isn’t accepted by industrial composting facilities either.
There are lambskin condoms on the market for people who are allergic to latex or don’t want to use fossil fuel-based products. Producers advertise such condoms as fully biodegradable, but we haven’t found any evidence on how long it takes, or under what conditions. Moreover, they are regarded as being less effective against STDs. But to reduce your impact when using condoms, you can at least try to choose ones in recyclable packaging, or bulk packaging.
Female condoms, caps and diaphragms are preferable from an environmental perspective, as they are reusable and create less waste. However, there are some downsides when it comes to their contraceptive powers. They are less convenient in application, and less effective in preventing pregnancy. They also don’t protect partners from STDs, and require spermicide (the gel that kills sperm) to be used alongside them.
A dental dam is used for protection during oral sex. The barrier sheets are made of latex or polyurethane, and must be disposed of after usage. You can also find natural latex-based dams on the market but, unfortunately, they are not reusable or recyclable.
All other types of contraceptives protect exclusively against unplanned pregnancy. Although hormonal contraceptives don’t protect partners from STDs, they are highly popular worldwide. Birth control pills, contraceptive injections, implants and patches release hormones into the woman’s body to prevent pregnancy. As synthetic hormones can’t be fully absorbed by the human organism, a certain amount is excreted through urine into the sewage system, where it can’t be fully removed. Recent studies show a significant negative impact of estrogen and progestin compounds on aquatic life. Hormones affect the reproductive system of fish and other living beings prevent them from procreation, which could lead to the extinction of whole species.
Looking at the threats posed by hormonal preventive medicine to nature, the smaller amount of waste in comparison to condoms seems less exciting.
An intrauterine device (IUD), or “coil”, is a more preferable contraceptive from an environmental point of view. It is a hormone-free solution that lasts up to 10 years. So the total waste from this type of contraception is limited to the small amount of plastic and copper that makes up the coil itself, and any medical waste during the process of inserting and taking out the IUD. However, this method has its disadvantages on a personal level, which your gynaecologist can talk you through.
The natural family planning method can be totally zero-waste but it doesn’t suit everyone. Reading the signs given by a woman’s body helps understand which days she is fertile on, but many factors such as illness, stress and travel can influence records and lower the effectiveness of the method. Using barrier contraceptives is still important to prevent unplanned pregnancy during fertile periods.
If you have a need to top-up your natural lubrication, take care to choose the right product. The content of the product itself is as important as choosing packaging that’s recyclable in your area. There are water-based, oil-based and silicone-based lubes on the market:
You can also try a zero waste homemade lube. Just heat water and cornstarch for a few minutes in a cooker and cool it down. But as with other non-manufactured lubricants, you should consult your doctor before applying it.
The majority of adult toys are made of mixed materials, and sometimes it is not clear exactly which materials are used. Even if the toy is made of only stainless steel, wood, glass, silicone or plastic, any waste that has been in contact with body fluids is considered a potentially dangerous health risk. All these obstacles make sex toy recycling almost utopic. In most cases, you can’t just put your old vibrator into the recycling bin—this would be classic wishcycling.
So, before you buy a device marketed as “100% recyclable”, check if there is a recycling scheme for such products in your area. Often, adult toy producers offer such an option for their customers. Ask for proof of how many goods they’ve actually recycled and how they are processed, to be sure you can trust their word.
Biobased plastic toys or biodegradable ones are promoted as an eco-friendly alternative. But our regular readers will know that biobased doesn’t mean it's safe to dispose of, and biodegradable plastic requires special conditions to degrade.
As you can see, the pleasure industry is also dirty literally, not just figuratively. So, if you decide to brighten up your sex life with dedicated toys, use these tips to reduce your environmental impact:
Hoping to spice up relationships, couples sometimes buy seductive clothes. But most mass-market sexy costumes are far from sustainable. They are made of synthetic fabrics with low-grade stitches that tear apart easily. Plastic packaging seems to be a must, too.
Aside from clothes, the pleasure industry has a lot of other accessories to offer a customer: body jewellery, whips, bondage gear, etc. Shopping in a hurry in the first shop around the corner will bring you and nature nothing but disappointment. The wrong size, unreliable closures and fragile designs can spoil any night, and lead to the item being soon discarded.
If you are sure you can’t choose an alternative among things you can find at home (for example, ties instead of handcuffs), then try these greener options:
As you can see, making what goes on between the sheets more eco-friendly is a tricky task. But looking for the right way to get pleasure without harming the environment can bring you even closer to your partner and help you understand yourself better. Exciting, don’t you think?
Image credit - freepik.com.