Let's get it on...
How to have sex (sustainably and ethically)
9th November, 2010
Kicking off a new series of 'how to...' we show you the most satisfying way to 'green up' your lovemaking between the sheets. Now relax, lie back and think of the Ecologist…
You’ve cycled home from work, whipped the veg box up into a sumptuous meal, dimmed the LED lightbulbs and slipped into something organic. Your partner is giving you the look of love across the reclaimed oak table. Polish off that bottle of Fairtrade wine and turn up Barry White on your A-rated CD player... it's time to get down to some good lovin'.
If you thought your environmental duty stopped at the bedroom door, however, think again. It may be one of the more enjoyable low-carbon and low-impact activities out there, but there are still ways to green up your sex life.
Are you up for it?
After a hard day at the office, it may be difficult sometimes to summon the energy for a romp in the sack. But a greener, healthier lifestyle – a balanced, nutritious diet and plenty of exercise – is one of the best ways to keep your libido, among other things, up. The act itself is also a good way to stay fit – a nine-stone person can burn 20 calories per five minutes of vigorous sex – so if you have a willing partner and plenty of stamina you could probably just ditch the jogging and cut to the chase. As well as lowering your risk of a heart attack (depending on your age and athletic ability), medical studies suggest that sex is integrally connected to wellbeing and a longer, happier life.
In 2008, researchers in the US worked out that every child born stateside adds a whopping 9,441 tonnes of carbon to each parent's carbon footprint (1,384 tonnes in China and 56 tonnes in Bangladesh). Given that, it’s hard not to see contraception as the ultimate form of offsetting in high-consumption countries such as the UK and US. But it’s not just a case of keeping your green conscience clean – the type of prophylaxis you use has an impact too.
Somewhere in the region of 10 billion condoms are used worldwide every year, which is either a lot of plastic going to landfill or a population explosion of cataclysmic proportions averted, depending on how you want to look at it.
Choose natural rubber (and rubbers) over nonbiodegradable polyurethane if you can. French Letter condoms are made of latex harvested in South Asia. The latex-tappers are guaranteed higher wages and better working conditions, while the condoms guarantee safety, kitemarked as they are by the BSI and CE.
A 99 per cent effective means of birth control, condoms don’t need to contain a spermicide, which, as Pat Thomas writes, doesn’t protect against STDs and may even increase the risk of infection.
The Pill may have empowered generations of women since its introduction in the 1960s, but its side-effects are becoming increasingly evident in the natural world. A recently completed four-year study by Exeter and Brunel universities has established that endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) found in the female contraceptive, among other substances leeched into waterways and sewage systems, are responsible for altering the biology of male fish to make them more female.
Of course there are also natural ways to avoid getting pregnant, some more effective than others. Oral sex, for example, is 100 per cent effective; the calendar-rhythm method, which involves counting the menstrual cycle and only having unprotected sex on certain days, is not.
Considering what you’ll be slathering it over, who wouldn’t want their lube to be organic? That is, unless petroleum based-chemicals (liquidum paraffinum, petroleum jelly), skin irritants (glycerin, grapefruit seed extract), penetration enhancers (propylene glycol) and potentially carcinogenic synthetic preservatives and oestrogen-mimickers (methylparaben) are your kinky thing. A few brands don’t even list their ingredients, a worrying fact and something of a passion-killer, especially if you're trying to read the packaging mid-application.
You may know where they’re going, but do you know where they’ve been? Supermarket chains Tesco and Carrefour were recently rapped for selling consumer products – including sex toys – containing toxic ‘substances of very high concern’ (SVHCs). In fact the manufacture of most big-brand vibrators, dildos and other sex toys should be a cause for concern. The majority are made from PVC, which contains hormone-disrupting phthalates and the carcinogen vinyl chloride, while the process of creating PVC and disposing of it through incineration releases cancer-causing dioxin.
Glass is infinitely more stylish and eco-friendly an option. Phthalate-free, long-lasting, battery-free and non-porous, cutting down on the spread of bacteria and viruses, glass dildos, butt plugs and love eggs are also sensually body-temperature-sensitive. Those with money (and a penis) to spare might consider investing in a fair trade pearl cock ring.
If you’re more of a Duracell bunny, preferring that most intimate of household appliances, the vibrator, then use rechargeable batteries rather than traditional dry-cell ones. Not to ruin the moment, but the UK sends the equivalent weight of 110 jumbo jets’ worth to landfill every year, containing harmful heavy metals such as lead, cadmium, mercury and nickel. And be sure to recycle: Love Honey operates a ‘Rabbit Amnesty’ for the world’s number one vibrator, recycling your old or broken Rabbit, providing you with a new one for half price and donating £1 to a green charity at the same time.
The advertising industry knows that sex sells, but in a world where supermarkets employ pornographic film techniques to shift chocolate cake and a really good shampoo is all a woman needs to reach climax, it’s difficult not to think that it has sold out too.
Like preferring trains to planes and Slow Food to fast, green sex is as much about the journey as the destination – to rework the old adage: ‘It’s not the coming, it’s the taking part that counts.’ Find a person you want to go to bed with and who wants to go to bed with you, and in the end all the extraneous paraphernalia, packaging and promotion don't mean a thing.
Getting steamy the green way may just be the most enjoyable environmental experience of your life. And think what you'll be saving in heating bills...
Eifion Rees is the Ecologist's acting Green Living Editor
Green sex resources
Eco-Sex: Go green between the sheets and make your love-life sustainable – Stefanie Iris Weiss’s book includes tips on aphrodisiac meals, latex beds and eco-sexy bling (Ten Speed Press, £14.99)
Coco de Mer – Sam Roddick’s erotic boutique in London, whose products are made by local artisans, or Fairtrade projects abroad, ‘with consideration for environmental and human rights’.
Green Porno – Not really. Isabella Rosselini writes and stars as the male of the species in five two-minute films about the seduction habits of the cuttlefish, duck, salmon, bedbug and snake.
Fuckforforest.com – Yes, really. This registered not-for-profit offers ‘erotic activism and idealistic porn’, raising money through donations for reforestation projects in Costa Rica and Ecuador.
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