From your menstrual cup to your trusted canvas shopper, making an effort to cut down on plastic waste has never been more popular. However – as eight million pieces of plastic pollution enter into our oceans daily – we are left wondering whether these small implementations are enough. Rather than enforcing a plastic straw ban that adversely affects those who need them, should we be tackling a low-waste lifestyle in every area of our lives? For instance – just how ethical is your sex life?
Condom wrappers, lube stored in plastic bottles, and all that plastic covering your favourite sex toys: having a healthy sex life can create a lot of waste – albeit, some of it necessary (we would never suggest you forgo a condom for the sake of sustainability). In fact, with over 8.96 million 25-34 year-olds in the UK who have sex on average 108 times a year, you can only imagine the amount of waste caused by the millennials’ sex lives.
Package Free Shop, a Brooklyn-based plastic-free store, began to combat this issue when it released biodegradable vibrators ahead of Valentine’s Day this year – that promptly sold out. “Just because you are sexually active it doesn’t mean that you can’t also be sustainable,” Lauren Singer, founder of the store and a pioneer of the zero-waste lifestyle www.trashisfortossers.com, told me. “And if people are going to use vibrators and sex toys, we really believe that people should have the access for the best possible options for those products.” The vibrators feature in the ‘Let’s Get Romantic’ part of the site – alongside soy-wax massage candles and natural latex condoms. The store also offers sex toy recycling through TerraCycle.
Recycling your sex toys is something that has been around for a few years, offered by many of the big stores such as Love Honey and Ann Summers – however, using a biodegradable vibrator does combat the energy used in the recycling process, and in general creates less waste.
For those who need something that packs more of a punch than a bullet vibrator – Brighton’s She Said Boutique stocks an extensive range of eco-friendly and sweatshop free toys made using hypoallergenic medical grade silicone.
However, a problem does arise when it comes to protection during a low-waste lifestyle. Singer tells me that to combat the amount of trash that is used with condoms, she personally doesn’t use them. To avoid unplanned pregnancies, she uses a period tracking app to understand her menstrual cycle – and therefore knows when she is ovulating – and to avoid STDs she ensures she has committed partners. “What I do with any partner I sleep with is, before we sleep together for the first time I make them get tested, and for me it’s a really good filter. If I can’t or don’t feel comfortable to ask a partner to get tested, it probably means I shouldn’t sleep with them anyway,” she says. For those who don’t feel comfortable using Singer’s method – or those with existing STDs – Singer does suggest using condoms: “we say not all condoms are created equal and the condoms that we sell are different because they are made using fair-trade rubber.”
To remain completely waste-free in your sex life, Singer also suggests using coconut oil as a lubricant: “It works super well, it’s cheap, you can buy it packaged in glass and totally recyclable packaging,” she says. “You have to be careful with it and condoms though, because it can cause them to tear.” For those wearing condoms, water-based vegan lubricant like Hero is an option.
Sustain condoms, those stocked by Package Free Shop, are a revolutionary condom brand. Founded by Meika Hollender, not only does the brand use fair-trade natural latex, and come in recyclable paper packaging, but they are made ethically – the condom industry is laden with child labour – and the company gives 10% of all profits to women’s healthcare organisations. Aside from the sustainable and ethical benefits, they are better for your vagina. Sustain are nitrosamine-free, a carcinogen found in most latex condoms. “Nitrosamines aren’t added, it’s a chemical reaction that happens when you tap the latex from the rubber tree,” Meika Hollender explains to me. “It pours out in a liquid form, similar to when you tap a maple tree for the syrup, and then you have to heat and mold the latex to create the condoms.So when you are heating and molding latex to make any product, the chemical reaction happens and nitrosamines form in the latex. Then when the latex comes into contact with bodily fluid, the nitrosamines get released.”
Condoms are probably one of the aspects of your sex life where waste is necessary. “I am a firm believer of any condom is better from no condom – period,” Hollender says, explaining that from a sustainability standpoint, using condoms and creating a small amount of waste is more eco-friendly than the waste generated through an unplanned pregnancy or treating a sexually transmitted disease: “It’s really challenging to find a product that truly is net positive but we believe condoms are one of those products.”
Whilst there is still a lack of UK-based sustainable sexual health brands, there are easy sustainable swaps to be made – whether through glass dildos or hemp rope. So if you’re considering extending your low-waste lifestyle to the bedroom, ditch the cheap plastic sex toys, get creative, but keep the condoms.