Why you should care
Now you can feel even better about having sex.
You recycle, drive a hybrid and even bring your own bags when you go shopping for organic kale at Trader Joe’s. Kudos. But consider your sex life: How likely is that to win you carbon points?
The question is less absurd than you think. Mother Earth might be the last thing on your mind when you’re getting funky, but many of the products we use between the sheets (worth billions of dollars, globally) are not only bad for the environment, but also for our health. A new generation of sex-preneurs is trying to make your sex life more sustainable with everything from recycled vibrators to paraben-free lubes.
Following on the low-carbon footprints of industries like food and clothing, makers of sex products are trying to mirror society’s growing environmental awareness and address people’s eco concerns. “There’s certainly a growing demand for clean products,” says Patrick Pruvot, founder of Passage Du Desir, a chain of Parisian sex shops that favors green products, selling everything from aloe vera lubricant for $16 to a plant-based anal relaxing gel for $21.
The sex toy industry is booming, and so is the condom industry, which is on track to reach a value of $6 billion this year.
To be sure, your picking one brand of condoms over another will not instantly save a polar bear’s life, but it might actually save a turtle’s. The world is forecast to go through 27 billion condoms this year, and latex is not biodegradable in water, so when prophylactics get flushed, they end up killing our marine life. And all those batteries in your personal massagers? They often wind up in landfills, polluting the water supply with cadmium, mercury and lithium. What took you a few hours to enjoy will take 100 years to decompose.
Not to mention the products we use — ahem — internally. Sex toys are scarily unregulated, and many of them contain substances that can be toxic or carcinogenic, like phthalates, which are actually banned in children’s toys because they have been linked to serious hormone malfunctioning and reproductive defects. Lubricants can also be filled with potentially hazardous chemicals with such sexy names as parabens, nonoxynol-9 or methylisothiazolinone. Toluene, for example, has been banned in Europe for products like glues and pens (because it could potentially be ingested), yet it continues to be used in sex toys — despite a study by the Danish Environmental Protection Agency showing that, if used by pregnant women, dildos containing toluene can harm the health of the unborn child.
Does that mean you should have uncomfortable, unprotected sex while you roll around in moss? Of course not (though feel free to try). But today’s eco-sexaholic knows there are options, and they’re multiplying, from solar-powered vibrators to certified-organic lubes. And it’s not only for earth-loving hippies, this earth-loving stuff: You can also buy recycled rubber whips and handcuffs. “It’s just a matter of making small choices and being coherent,” says Stefanie Iris Weiss, author of Eco-Sex: Go Green Between the Sheets and Make Your Love Life Sustainable, who has been researching the subject for years.
Still, being sexually evolved comes at a price, and turning off the lights won’t make up for it. That’s why businesses producing $20 vibrators are inclined to cut corners when it comes to the environment. Others, however, are going the other way and making a good profit at it. “People are taking their pleasure more seriously,” says Steve Thomson, head of marketing at LELO, which has sold more than 10 million high-end eco-friendly rechargeable massagers. Indeed, the sex toy industry is booming, and so is the condom industry, which, according to the market research firm Infinity Research, this year will reach a value of $6 billion — so sustainability is becoming increasingly important.
“I started using green sex toys only because my ex-girlfriend was vegan and she insisted. But now I much prefer it, whether it’s lubes or toys,” says Christopher Lopresti, a 29-year-old French circus teacher. “There’s nothing sexy about putting things inside your body that look fluorescent or smell like chemicals.”
But for the sex industry to go green, using fewer parabens won’t be enough. Experts say the entire life cycle of the product needs to change, from using more eco-friendly modes of transportation to cleaner packaging. Among these initiatives, sex toy recycling is growing popular — like Rabbit Amnesty, a scheme set up by the British company Lovehoney that lets customers buy dildos at a discounted price when they send their old one in to be recycled.
Maybe in terms of doing right by the Earth, our sex life is a good place to start. After all, it’s something we enjoy, unlike making compost or refusing to eat bacon. “When you think about it, that’s the one thing everybody does,” says Iris Weiss. “Or at least hopes to do.”