*Warning: This article is for mature audiences only.*
Safe sex is vital. For your health and for the planet. From avoiding STDs to preventing pregnancies, safety has to be the first consideration. For this reason, truly zero waste sex is impossible. However, we can at least try to make our intercourse as eco-friendly as possible.
Protecting yourself and your partner from STDs is crucial, and the availability of condoms greatly helps with that. Regardless of who you’re with or how many people you’ve slept with, you should always use protection. Whether that’s a condom, dental dam, or both, use it. The impact of the condoms is much less than the impact of another human being or the treatment for an STI.
What we can do is try to ensure that the condoms we use are planet-friendly. There are several sustainable condom brands out there. I personally recommend Sustain Natural condoms for most people. They are nitrosamine free, vegan, fair trade and FDA cleared–among their other certifications. They’re a solid sustainable choice. However, they are latex condoms.
For those with a latex allergy, Glyde–a provider of vegan, fair trade condoms–sells Skyn, a non-latex condom option.
I’d recommend either for a good, eco-friendly condom option. I’m not exactly a condom-snob, so I don’t have opinions about the sensations or anything, though I’ve tried both brands. But Sustain Natural comes in four different fits–ultra thin, extra large, large comfort fit, and tailored fit. Skyn condoms are available in original, large, and extra studded.
In my opinion, dental dams are criminally underused. Safe sex is important, even oral sex. While I couldn’t find a latex-free dental dam that was particularly good for the environment, you can always cut the tip and base off of a condom, then cut a line through it to create one if you’d prefer to use a well-known sustainable brand. Any protection is better than none.
As for latex dental dams, Glyde is swooping in again. They sell sheer Glyde dams in assorted flavors.
While the small amount of trash produced by using condoms and dental dams are very worth it, you might be interested in the most eco-friendly way to dispose of condoms. While latex condoms are technically compostable, they take a super long time in a traditional compost pile and aren’t accepted in most commercial composting facilities. For most people, the best solution is to just throw them in the bin. What you definitely shouldn’t do is flush your condoms or dams. At best, they’ll pass through your pipes fine and get caught early on in the water treatment process. At worst, they’ll either mess with your plumbing or slip by in the water treatment process and end up as more plastic waste in our ocean.
For those of us at risk of pregnancy, it’s important to prevent it until you’re ready for it–if and when that happens. To be clear, any method of pregnancy protection that has shown to be effective is far better than no protection. Here, I’ll only be going over what I consider to be the best low-waste options. If none of these seem like a good fit for you, then definitely look for another option–I highly recommend the Planned Parenthood guide as a resource. I’d much rather you be producing a little trash than forgoing birth control or using a method that isn’t a good fit for you. That being said, here are some options.
Intrauterine Devices (IUDs) are a fantastic low-waste birth control option. They’re 99% effective, and depending on the type they can be effective for up to twelve years. There are both copper and hormonal options, so if you’ve had bad experiences with hormonal birth control a copper IUD can be a good fit for you! Copper IUDs can also be effective as emergency contraception. An IUD can be removed at any time, and you can get pregnant immediately after removal. See this page from Planned Parenthood for more in-depth information.
The implant is what I use personally. They’re also a good low-waste birth control option. They’re 99% effective and last up to 5 years, depending on the type. They’re hormonal, so if you’ve had bad experiences with any hormonal birth control they may not be right for you. My insertion procedure was super quick and easy and didn’t hurt at all. I haven’t had any issues with it. It’s put just under the skin in your arm. I personally love it. See this page from Planned Parenthood for more in-depth information.
DIAPHRAGM OR CERVICAL CAP
Diaphragms and cervical caps work similarly, by covering your cervix to prevent sperm from entering. Diaphrams are 88% effective, and cervical caps are 71-86% effective. They aren’t hormonal and can be put in hours before intercourse. However, both should be used with spermicide, so it’s not a perfect zero waste solution. The actual caps are reusable, and the cost is often lower than with IUDs or implants. See these pages from Planned Parenthood for more information about cervical caps or diaphragms.
Fertility tracking involves being aware of when it’s possible for you to become pregnant and avoiding sexual activity during that time. It’s 76-88% effective when used correctly, but can be difficult and is more heavily involved. For more information, see this page from Planned Parenthood.
If you’re positive that you don’t want to have children, sterilization is 99% effective for both penis and uterus owners at preventing pregnancies. Sterilization is usually a permanent choice and does involve surgery. For more information, see these pages on Planned Parenthood for tubal litigation (vagina-owners) and/or vasectomies (penis-havers).
Lube is the solution to so many bedroom problems. Want to get down but your body isn’t quite where you are yet? Lube. Not a naturally wet person? Lube. Just want some fun slippy action? Lube. You get my point. I’m a fan. As with everything, sustainability is key here.
There are many sustainable lubricant options–look for something with natural ingredients like coconut oil or aloe vera. However, stay away from anything oil-based if you’re using a latex condom or dental dam. It can help break down the condom. Sustain Natural, the same maker of the latex condom I mentioned, also has a great lube available.
Another option is to use an alternative to lube. Aloe vera and coconut oil, as I previously mentioned, both work. You can harvest the aloe directly from a plant, and coconut oil is available in recyclable or reusable glass jars. Mind my previous warning about oil and latex, though! Additionally, you can reduce your need for lube in some situations by spending more time on foreplay.
Whether you’re using them with a partner, solo, or with multiple people, the type of sex toys you buy can also have an impact on the planet. There are multiple factors to consider when choosing a toy.
Material is super important in selecting a sex toy. Glass, metal, and medical-grade silicone are all body-safe options. Glass is recyclable, and while silicone is harder to recycle it’s very durable and easy to clean, so it can last you a long time.
In terms of the type of toy you get, electronic toys that vibrate, provide suction, or move are very popular. If you opt for this kind of toy, consider either selecting a rechargeable toy or buying rechargeable batteries to use with your toy. This way, you don’t produce tons of batteries. There are also solar powered sex toys on the market if you’re interested in trying that out!
In addition to paying mind to the materials and type of toy, you can also focus on the brand. I’m not sponsored by any of the following companies!
Babeland is well-known for being a woman-friendly sex toy shop. It’s also known for being incredibly queer and gender nonconforming positive, which is a huge plus. Although not specifically more eco-friendly, they sell many glass, metal, and silicone toys and have a donation program, humorously called Come for a Cause. Many of these donations go towards organizations supporting sexual education, which is tremendously important in curbing climate change. They have also used profits to donate to climate organizations in the past.
JimmyJane is another sex toy producer which sells excellent glass, metal, and silicone toys.
Lovehoney is especially notable on the environmental front, based in the UK. They have a sex toy recycling program and are dedicated to greener business practices. They also sell a variety of high-quality glass, metal, and silicone sex toys.
While we wish the fun could last forever, ultimately all sex toys meet their maker sooner or later. When the time comes, it’s time to recycle them. While local recycling facilities may accept some sex toys as part of an electronics recycling program, you may have better luck with sex toy specific programs. As previously mentioned, Lovehoney has information about recycling sex toys (including through their program) here. You can also recycle sex toys through Sex Toy Recycling via mail here.
Although we can’t have perfectly zero waste sex, the waste is worth it to prevent diseases and pregnancies–which would both have a much higher impact on the environment than a few condoms, anyway. Whether you’re solo or with others, sex should always be safe, consensual, and now it can be eco-friendly, too.
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