Ironically, the products we reach for to ensure a safe and happy sex life have a nasty tendency to lean towards the synthetic. But eco-friendly sex doesn’t need to be a fantasy. A new generation of products focusing on sustainable materials, natural ingredients and plastic-free design are prioritising the environment right alongside your pleasure. So let’s dive into the feel-good world of sustainable sex.
Condoms are the most popular form of contraception. Which is good because they’re great at protecting us from STIs and preventing unplanned pregnancies. But it’s also bad because most condoms are made from non-organic latex – the harvesting of which can have huge environmental impacts.
Also, while latex will (eventually) break down in landfill it’s non-biodegradable in water. So, any condom that’s flushed down the toilet ends up polluting waterways (and wreaking havoc on your plumbing).
The tricky thing here is that, while latex isn’t perfect, when it comes to a safe and effective product it’s hard to beat. We’re all for making eco-friendly swaps, and usually even happy to compromise a little of the effectiveness of a product for the sake of the earth. But that doesn’t really fly when it comes to our sex lives.
One solution is to focus on natural and organic latex that’s farmed responsibly with the welfare of growers in mind. Glyde is an Australian-based and B Corporation–certified brand that calls itself the “first certified ethical, vegan, and fair-trade premium condom brand.” Its products are made from sustainably grown, non-GMO natural rubber that’s sourced from worker-owned-and-operated producers with fair-trade and ethical labour practices.
Alongside B Corp, it’s also certified by The Vegan Society, PETA’s Caring Consumer program and the Green Business Network.
Similarly, Sustain exclusively sources its latex from Fair Rubber and FSC certified plantations that comply with high environmental and social standards. Once again, it’s also B Corporation certified, ensuring its whole business model is focused on doing right by the planet.
Australian company (seriously, go Aussies) Jonny uses vegan-friendly, non-medicated, vegan latex, palm-oil free materials that breaks down over time. Plus it avoids chemical agents like spermicides, parabens, petrochemicals and nitrosamines.
All Jonny products are delivered in recycled packaging. But heads up in Australia, by law all condoms must be wrapped in foil which isn’t kerbside recyclable.
For some people, the idea of latex may still be off-putting. In that case lambskin condoms are a biodegradable option. Although they of course are an animal product. Plus – and this is very important – lambskin condoms are not recommended for prevention against STIs. They are shown to be effective against conception but, if you use them, you and your partner will still need to be tested regularly.
If you’re in a monogamous relationship and have a uterus, there are other waste-free options to prevent pregnancy: your doctor can sort you out with an IUD or a diaphragm, but once again you still will need to make a plan for avoiding STIs.
After condoms, lube might be our most reached for product in the bedroom (or living room, bathroom, car – you do you baby). Reportedly 43 per cent of millennials use lube, great! But not all lubes are created equal: many contain a dizzying list of chemicals and offer little transparency around who is making the product and what the production process is doing to the planet.
To preserve our earth (and natural pH levels), you could follow the Goop creed of opting for natural oils, like coconut. But, be aware that natural oils can compromise the integrity of latex so shouldn’t be used with condoms.
A safer bet is choosing an organic lube brand. Once again Jonny is coming through with the goods.
Its bonk lube is water-based and formulated with aloe vera and native New Zealand harakeke extract. It’s BioGro certified organic and chemical free.
Lube is a tricky product to find plastic package free, but services like TerraCycle are able to recycle many forms of tubes and bottles.
Sustainable sex toys are nothing new – people have been pretty creative over the centuries when it comes to getting off naturally. But assuming you don’t feel like crafting a dildo out of bread (shout-out to the ancient Greeks), you still have plenty of options. Getting back to basics, stone, glass, wood and metal sex toys and accessories are widely available. Kindred Black even stocks a range of legitimately beautiful glass products that you won’t want to put away in your nightstand.
Things are a bit more complex when it comes to vibrators and items with batteries. As we know, electronic waste is a huge issue. By 2016, the world was producing 44.7 million metric tonnes of electronic waste, only 20 per cent of which was recycled. So no matter what you are looking for, try avoid battery operated products and go for something rechargeable or that plugs in.
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Sounds wild but biodegradable vibrators do exist. Blush Novelties’ Gaia Eco claims the title for being the “first biodegradable vibrator”, which has a non-porous, starch-based bioplastic casing around the bullet shape. It is able to break down in the right conditions.
Package Free also stocks a biodegradable and (technically) recyclable vibrator made from a starch-based bioplastic. Unfortunately, it does require AAs, so pick up some rechargeable batteries while you’re shopping.
For the most part, even eco-friendly sex toys can be tricky to dispose of responsibly. Products made entirely from silicone need to undergo a special sterilising process in an autoclave before they’re able to be repurposed into anything. If this is done properly, they can then be turned into materials for things like running tracks.
That’s not something your local council can really handle, but some stores are taking on the responsibility of managing the disposal of products themselves. Jack Lamon is the co-owner of Come As You Are: a co-operative sex shop in Toronto that is taking on the responsibility for disposing of silicone products and making a huge effort to ensure its products don’t end up in landfill.
But speaking to the Guardian in 2019, he explained the challenges of finding alternative end-of-life plans: “Any porous material, such as jelly rubber or latex, has to be landfilled…There’s no way you can clean them and make them not a biohazard.”
Australian brand Normal are reducing their impact too, by offering a trade in service where customers are able to return their sex toys and products to be recycled. As the brand explains, they work with “specialist recycling firms to ensure that all returned toys are recycled safely and effectively.”
To limit the impact of the sex toys you buy, it pays to really think about the purchase before you make it.
Do your homework on the product’s overall quality and estimate how much you’ll use it and for how long. Consider it an investment, something that’s worth spending a bit of money on, understanding that, if you look after it, it should last you several years.