What's not green about sex?
Vanessa talks good toys, bad toys and Earth-friendly sex.
Tue, Sep 15 2009 at 9:30 AM
Editor's Note: This column contains mature content that might be unsuitable for younger readers.
Thanks for the articles. They have been very helpful. I have a lingering question, though. What about sex? I mean what are the biggest eco-friendly — or eco-unfriendly — issues when it comes to sex? Crazy to think how something that should be the best, healthiest thing we do could be hurting us. I know that’s kind of broad, but I’d love to hear your thoughts.
- Just Curious
Dear, sweet Curious,
You’ve gotta love the creative juices that have given rise to the vast variety of sex products available. They’ve had a profound impact on our lives: the pleasures and benefits to our health and well-being are innumerable. Unfortunately, much of what’s good for our sex lives — from condoms, lubricants, toys and apparel to birth control — have a profoundly negative impact on our health and the environment.
Let’s set aside for a moment the environmental consequences of the manufacturing, packaging, transportation and disposal of all those wonderful sex gadgets and look instead at a rarely considered consequence of product labeling laws. In far too many states across the country, laws ban the sale of even the most innocuous sexual devices. In Texas, for example, the creation and sale of anything "designed or marked as useful primarily for the stimulation of human genital organs" is banned. The significance of these types of laws becomes apparent on the label. Therefore, the adult sex toy industry must label items like vibrators and dildos “for novelty use only,” or “for educational or instructional use only.” Why does that matter? Because the products that come into the most direct and intimate contact with our bodies do not have to be regulated for human health effects, as they are only “novelties.”
All sorts of chemicals you would never consider putting in your body are used in the manufacturing of adult toys because they are — by law and labeling — not meant for, well, what they're meant for.
In addition to other toxins, sex toys contain chemicals called phthalates, a substance used to soften hard plastics like PVC — often providing that jelly feeling. The EU has banned a range of phthalates, and California is following their lead. Phthalates and other toxic chemicals are regulated minimally in toys for children and pets, but that is not true for adult toys — because legally, they will never actually be used. Read these MNN articles for more information about phthalates and BPA.
So what to do? Ultimately, we must work to get these laws overturned and demand that all products be safe for human and planetary health. In the meantime, opt for accessories made from sustainably harvested and recycled substances such as leather, glass, metal or wood. And don’t neglect the vegetable drawer (locally grown and organic, of course).
Good to know: The retailer Dreamscapes has launched a sex-toy recycling program.
Often, lubricants and massage oils contain toxic ingredients, including insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, parabens, artificial scents, flavors and colors in addition to being petroleum-based products. These chemicals are readily absorbed through the skin. Plenty of natural and organic lubes and oils are available. Better yet, make your own with ingredients from your kitchen. If it’s good enough to eat…! Your skin is not so much a barrier as a sponge, so if you wouldn’t eat it, why would you put it on — or in — your body?
But, dear reader, I digress: You asked what is the biggest eco-issue when it comes to sex, and paraphernalia is not the answer. The best environmental choice we can make is to not reproduce. Your greenest sex option is therefore birth control. Here are advantages and disadvantages of several birth control options.
• Condoms: As a barrier to pregnancy and disease, condoms can’t be beat. Environmentally, they aren’t so friendly. The absolute laws of green — Reduce, Reuse, Recycle — definitely don’t apply here. Condoms are individually wrapped, single-use products that end up as trash. Condoms made from polyurethane will not biodegrade. Lambskin condoms could be composted, but they are not considered effective against sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Latex might be biodegradable, but no one really seems to know for sure, nor do we know what the addition of lubricants and spermicides does to their ability to degrade. Regardless, landfills don’t provide the necessary environment for decomposition anyway. Most latex has a milk enzyme added, so vegans will be glad to find a growing number of alternatives on the market.
Don’t flush your condom. It will clog pipes and treatment plants, and will end up being transported to a landfill, or slip past that step into the ocean. Besides, each toilet flush uses an estimated 20 liters — or 5 to 6 liters for a low-flow toilet.
Don’t get me wrong: condoms are wasteful — from production and packaging to disposal — but the benefits far outweigh the environmental costs when you consider the potential to avoid disease and pregnancy.
• Birth control pills are effective against pregnancy but don’t protect against STDs. Birth control pills and other estrogen- or progestin-interrupting contraception methods have environmental consequences beyond the impact of manufacturing, packaging and transportation. They contribute to the growing dangers of hormones ending up in waterways (from pills flushed down the toilet, and from women’s urine). I touched on this issue in a previous article.
• Diaphragms, cervical caps and intrauterine devices (IUDs) are an Earth-friendly method of baby prevention. They aren’t resource- and waste-free, but they are long lasting and small, and therefore have relatively little environmental impact.
• Sterilization is a great option to consider. The initial environmental impact of surgery is high, but it is offset by the elimination of pregnancy risk and the need for resource-intensive and waste-generating birth control.
• Rhythm and pullout methods are, in theory, the greenest birth control options, but they don't protect against disease and are considered too risky to be relied on.
Here’s some good green sex news: Heidi Fleiss, better known as the Hollywood Madam, plans to open an eco-brothel! The wind-powered stud farm, which will cater only to women, will be located on property she owns near Pahrump, Nev.
More eco-resources to satisfy your curiosity, safely:
MNN homepage photo: Beakraus/iStockphoto
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