On this 43rd Annual Earth Day, over a billion people across the planet will come together to reduce their impact on the environment. There are plenty of obvious ways to do that—like changing to more sustainable light bulbs or eating locally-grown produce—but there’s another less obvious place to get eco-friendly: your bedroom. In honor of Earth Day we’ve pulled together 4 tips for a greener sex life.
1. Unless you’re sure you want a baby, use birth control.
“Of all the smaller ways we can contribute to preserving the environment, [contraception] is the one that matters most,” writes Stefanie Weiss, author of Eco-Sex: Go Green Between the Sheets and Make Your Love Life Sustainable. Using birth control protects the environment for an obvious reason—a typical child born in the U.S. adds 38 hundred diapers, 3.1 million pounds of CO2, and 23 million pounds of water waste to Mother Earth. (Of course there are plenty of ways for the eco-conscious parents among us to go green too.)
In recent years, there have been claims that some methods of contraception (like the pill and the ring) were getting into rivers and streams and causing reproductive problems in fish and other wildlife. Not to worry! This theory has been largely debunked. Still, if you want the greenest possible method of birth control, check out the hormone-free copper IUD.
2. Make sure your condoms and lube are eco-friendly.
Because you can still get an STI when you’re using birth control, condoms are a key component of a healthy sex life—especially since half of sexually active people will get an STI by the time they’re 25. Stefanie recommends sticking to latex condoms—she’s a fan of Sir Richard’s, which are vegan and free of parabens and glycerin. Unlike polyurethane condoms, latex is biodegradable, though it can take a long time to break down.
Using lubricant can lower the risk of condom breakage by reducing friction—and it can increase sexual pleasure—but it’s smart to check the ingredients first. “Some lubes contain petroleum-derived ingredients, and a variety of lubes contain substances that can cause skin irritation—like glycerin, parabens, and fragrances,” reports Julie Sunday, author of the award-winning blog How to Have Sex in Texas.
“The number one chemical preservative to watch out for is anything in the paraben family: methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben, etc.,” agrees Stefanie. “This class of chemicals is thought to be carcinogenic and estrogenic.” Stefanie also recommends avoiding lube with glycerin since it can decrease moisture in the vagina, making it easier to get yeast infections and STIs.
It can take a lot of time and research to learn which chemicals to avoid, so some companies have made it easier by producing special lubricants without these harmful chemicals (like Babeland’s BabeLube Natural, Blossom Organic’s Natural Moisturizing Lubricant, and Sliquid Organics' line of lubricants).
3. Using sex toys? Make sure they don’t contain phthalates.
Phthalates (pronounced THAL-ates) are the chemicals that increase the flexibility of plastic, and they are unfortunately very common in sex toys. “Phthalates cause reproductive damage in people with high levels of exposure,” says Julie—and these negative effects are not limited to the individual. “They cause damage to future generations by impacting the DNA of sperm and eggs. The effects [in male offspring can include] an increased risk of infertility and impaired penis/testicle development.”
Phthalates have been banned from use in children’s toys and products because of these concerns, but they are not restricted from use in sex toys. “Sex toys are still sold as ‘novelty’ items in parts of the U.S. because some states continue to ban their legal sale… This means that toys are sold much the same way that fireworks, ‘fake’ marijuana, and other illegal things are sold,” says Julie. Because not every state has the same law, the Consumer Product Safety Commission can’t regulate them.
This means that it’s up to you to protect yourself and the environment. You can usually tell if a sex toy has phthalates because it will smell ‘plastic-y’ and may even look slimy. The ideal is to stick with phthalate-free toys (which may be more expensive, but are good long-term investments), place a condom over the toy before use to limit your exposure.
4. Get active.
You can demand that the government take action to keep these chemicals out of lube and sex toys by contacting your legislators. And starting or joining a movement around these issues may be the perfect way to celebrate Earth Day this year.
And don’t forget that eco-friendly sex can be fun, too—maybe even more fun than ‘regular’ sex. We’ll leave you with these wise words from Stefanie: “Go off the grid, turn down the lights, and light up a few non-GMO soy candles. Experiment with raw, organic, aphrodisiac chocolate. Try going vegan and watch your libido shoot up into the stratosphere. Try a safe, non-toxic, eco-friendly sex toy…If you don’t want to spend any money, experiment with tantric sex, which is totally free and only requires your undivided attention.”
Now that sounds like an excellent plan for Earth Day.