Eco-friendliness may not be the first thing to come to mind in the heat of the moment. But sustainable sex doesn’t mean you have to strictly abide by "rinse, reuse, recycle" when rolling in the hay.
Sex is a great activity for tons of reasons, including the fact that it’s easier on the environment than other ways to pass the time — like say, jet-skiing for example. But, a quickie (or a long-y) can have negative environmental consequences because of chemicals found in sex toys, the process of making a condom, or even how long you leave the water running when doing the dirty in the shower.
Check out these tips — from organic linens to lubing it up sans creepy chemicals — for how to have healthier sex without leaving a major carbon footprint in your lovemaking wake.
Setting the Mood
Before any bow-chicka-wow-wow ensues, treat yourselves to some mood-setting (but eco-conscious!) sexytime enhancers.
(Un)Make the Bed
The cotton that makes up your average pair of sheets is typically grown with the use of pesticides, which can negatively impact the environment — from contaminating major rivers and streams, to poisoning wildlife. Bamboo sheets or organic cotton sheets, on the other hand, are the ultimate in sustainable shagging. Not only do they feel awesome when you’re rolling around in your birthday suit, they’re also manufactured without pesticides.
Dim the Lights
Knock off electricity-guzzling lights and opt for a romantic, candle-lit setting. Even a full-on séance is a more sustainable alternative to lamps and overhead lighting (plus, it’s totally sexier). Choose soy or beeswax-based candles — they’re a healthier choice over conventional, paraffin-based candles, which are a byproduct of petroleum and release chemicals into the air.
If candles aren’t your thing, simply dim the lights to save electrical energy. The more you dim, the more you save. Three-way bulbs (hehe… ) are another great option (stick to the first setting for a dimmed effect); so are compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs), which lower greenhouse gas emissions. Or boycott bulbs altogether — do it outside and use the moon as your guide — just watch out for sand and poison ivy!
Rub it Out
Many mainstream massage oils contain synthetic fragrances and petroleum-based oils, which dip into a non-renewable resource and may also leave your skin irritated. Choose organic massage oils (made with natural oils) instead.
Rev Up that Ride
For an all-natural libido boost, turn to healthy, organic aphrodisiacs. There’s nothing like some fair trade, dark-chocolate-covered, organic strawberries to get a pair of lovebirds all sorts of randy.
Neglect the Negligees (Most of the Time)
Reserve the sexy lingerie for special occasions. Purchasing a hot little number that you’ll only wear once isn’t exactly sustainable. Plus, who needs lace and silk when we all know you’ll be nude in no time? If you really want something fancy shmancy (that won’t hurt Mother Nature’s feelings) shell out a little extra cash on silk and hemp lingerie for you and your special someone. And for the men out there, there’s nothing like a pair of eco-friendly undies — made from materials including organic cotton, hemp, and bamboo — to turn on your tree-hugging lover.
Get Clean With a Clean Conscience
Showering for two saves water, right? Not so if you’re doing the dirty while getting clean (unless you’re done in 60 seconds). It’s perfectly okay to scrub-a-dub with your partner before buying two tickets to pleasure town, but we suggest turning the water off while getting jiggy with it shower-style (or just take playtime straight to the bedroom once you’re both squeaky clean). Go with a low-flow showerhead to save money and the environment with each and every shower.
Sex Toys and Lube
All that vibrating and sliding around is an excellent time, but not always friendly for the environment. Learn what to look out for when purchasing sex toys and how to buy (or make!) lubes without scary ingredients.
Many sex toys contain chemicals called phthalates — a substance used to soften hard plastics such as polyvinyl chlorides (PVC). Pthalates have been linked to adverse effects on the lungs, liver, and kidneys of some animals. Even scarier? Congress banned this plastic from children’s toys not too long ago because they were linked to long-term side effects such as hormone malfunctioning in young boys. Choose toys made from glass, metal, silicone, hard plastics, or elastomers for a more eco- and body- friendly adult playtime.
Rechargeable toys, or those that take rechargeable batteries, are more sustainable than swapping out dead batteries every other time you get frisky. And if bondage is your thing (we’re not judging) go ahead and buy some vegan gear.
We all want to reduce friction between moving parts, but that doesn’t mean we should lather up with stuff used to lubricate heavy machinery. Many conventional lubricants contain chemicals found in oven cleaner, brake fluid, and antifreeze (gross, we know). Plus, the FDA doesn’t require testing of personal lubricants in humans.
When lube shopping, avoid artificial scents, flavors, and colors and look out for propylene glycol (shown to cause cancer and changes in hormones in animals) and parabens (which can pollute the air) Endocrine disrupting chemicals in indoor and outdoor air. Rudel, R.A., Perovich, L.J. Atmosphere and Environment, 2008 January 1;43(1):170-181.. There are also organic lubes for a safe and successful slip-and-slide. Most organic lubes are completely safe to ingest since they’re often made from oils we consume in our regular lives, such as olive oil (not that you want to go grease a pan with it, but ya know…). If you and your partner use condoms, make sure to purchase water-based lubricants so as not to degrade the latex (this is super important! Oil-based products are a major no-no with condoms). Check out the Environmental Working Group’s cosmetics database to see how different products’ ingredients labels stack up. Or, if you’re feeling crafty, there’s always DIY lube made from water and flax seeds, which is completely safe to use with condoms because it’s water-based.
We all learned it in 7th grade sex ed: “No glove, no love.” Contraception is always the right route to go (unless you're trying to make a baby), but some forms of protection are more sustainable than others.
Condoms are intrinsically eco-friendly because, well, one of their main uses is population control (there are estimates that nearly half of American pregnancies are unintended, so clearly we still have some work to do when it comes to contraceptive access and sex education) Unintended pregnancy in the United States: incidence and disparities, 2006. Finer, L.B., Zolna, M.R. Guttmacher Institute, New York, NY. Contraception, 2011 Nov;84(5):478-85.. With every baby comes an added stress on the Earth’s resources, food requirements, and the environment as a whole (i.e., increased emissions). So cover your Willy, silly (or use another form of protection)!
But don’t stop there. Since dairy proteins are used in the production of latex, most conventional condoms are not exactly eco-friendly (industrial dairy production generally means massive greenhouse emissions). The good news is that there are vegan condoms, which don’t use milk proteins, such as casein. Another eco-friendly tip when buying condoms (vegan or not): Buy in bulk to cut down on packaging.
Oral contraceptives may seem like an eco-friendlier option (no individually-wrapped packages!), but popping the pill still poses some potential ecological issues. Researchers have raised concerns over the hormones in birth control pills: Estrogenic compounds (natural estrogens and synthetic chemicals that mimic the hormone) have been found in waterways, including drinking water, which poses threats to aquatic life and possibly humans. Identification of centrarchid hepcidins and evidence that 17beta-estradiol disrupts constitutive expression of hepcidin-1 and inducible expression of hepcidin-2 in largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides). Robertson, L.S., Iwanowicz, L.R., Marranca, J.M. Leetown Science Center, U.S. Geological Survey, Kearneysville, WV. Fish Shellfish Immunology, 2009 Jun;26(6):898-907. Some countries, such as the UK, are working to remove these hormones from waterways, but it’s important to recognize that the hormones found in birth control pills, patches, and rings may be a relatively small contributor to the synthetic estrogens in our water supplies (Other major sources include some fertilizers and BPA). We would never tell anyone to cancel their birth control prescription — but do try to avoid relieving yourself in public drinking water if you take the pill.
Non-Permanent Forms of Contraception
Alternative forms of contraception, such as the NuvaRing, an intrauterine device (IUD), or a contraceptive implant still produce hormones, but they may be a better option than condoms or the pill because they reduce packaging waste. Perhaps one of the most eco-friendly modes of birth control is the copper IUD. It’s hormone-free, made from an abundant metal, and can last up to 10 years. Diaphragms are also a greener alternative (since they’re reusable for up to two years), though they’re not always as effective as more popular forms of protection, including condoms and the pill. (Important Note: Some forms of contraception, including the pill, rings, patches, IUDS, and implants, do not protect against Sexually Transmitted Infections.).
Hanky Panky Green — The Takeaway
Sex is great and all, but it’s good to know there are ways to fool around while keeping the environment in mind. So get to it with your soy candles, homemade lube, and eco-friendlier contraception!
How do you practice eco-friendly sex? Anything we missed? Let us know in the comment section below or tweet the author @nicmcdermott.