Let’s talk about (sustainable) sex baby!

Elisa Eckstein explores how sexy it can be to be sustainable in the bedroom.

With the advent of sustainability, many of us have tried to make small changes in our daily routines and consumption habits. Whether it be swapping disposable coffee cups for reusable ones, trying to thrift before checking retail shops or opting for more environmentally conscious forms of transport, it seems that many aspects of our daily lives have sustainable alternatives. There is one activity, however, that many tend to overlook. Unlike shopping, travel, and general consumption, sustainability is never really at the forefront of our minds when we think about sex. The environmental impact of contraception or sex toys is not something that we’re likely to dwell on when we’re in the bedroom.

“…these sexual objects often end up in landfills.”

However, it is something that must be acknowledged. Most sex toys are made of plastic and contain single-use batteries, which are highly polluting materials. Most toys also cannot be reused or fixed for further use once they eventually deteriorate. Effective condoms are made out of unrecyclable materials such as synthetic latex and cannot be reused (for obvious reasons) in any other context. As with any other product that we use and consume, these sexual objects often end up in landfills. The environmental impact of this is huge, with the UN reporting that the majority of the 10 billion male latex condoms produced every year end up discarded in dumps and landfills.

For those looking to make a sustainable swap, there is the option of using other forms of contraception, such as birth control and so-called green condoms (protection made with natural latex) instead of using regular synthetic protection. However, these options are often more expensive and harder to come by, and often neglect the protective aspect of protection. So while such alternatives may be attractive in a sustainable sense, they beget the question of whether we should be thinking more about our safety and comfort during sex or about the environmental consequences of our bedroom activities. Given the importance of effective protection in sex, it comes as a shock that there seems to be no sustainable alternative.

“…the two noticed the detrimental impact that the production of the toys has on the environment.”

While protection remains tricky to tackle in a sustainable way, sex toys are another story. Noticing the lack of sustainable toys on the market, Love Not War founder Will Ranscombe took matters into his own hands and created “sustainable vibrators that don’t cost the earth”. This sustainable sex toy company was launched in the UK on Earth Day 2021. After working extensively in the sex toy industry with his co-founder, the two noticed the detrimental impact that the production of the toys has on the environment. They then decided to create their own company — one that would reimagine the entire production process to create sustainable and long-lasting toys.

Instead of making sustainable adjustments to sex toys, such as making them from recycled plastic, Ranscombe and his partner “took a holistic approach”. They identified the main features of the toys and their production process that made them so unsustainable, and worked from there to redesign a new product. The Love Not War toys are made with an aluminium base, which is then covered in the plastic used in regular sex toys; this gives the toys a recyclable and more easily fixable foundation. Ranscombe explains that the problem with so many sex toys is that once they are damaged or ruined, they can no longer be reused. To challenge this, the company offers a service by which users can return their damaged toys to be reused and recycled. The toy is assessed to find the working parts, which are kept and reused, while the damaged parts are discarded and, when possible, recycled. The toys also feature a rechargeable battery, which can be inserted into any Love Not War toys — once a customer has bought one battery, they no longer need any more, halving the cost of any future toy purchase. While many aspects of the production remain inevitably unsustainable, Love Not War provides a far more environmentally friendly alternative for sex toy users.

“Every little role does help, but the guilt of pollution and waste should not rest on the individual consumer — especially when it means deciding between personal protection and the environment.”

Aside from protection and toys, there are a myriad of other ways in which sex can impact the environment; maybe you leave the water running too long during steamy shower sex, or you’re into a lot of latex-based role play. There are endless examples of how sex and related activities can play a role in damaging the environment. However, just like travelling by bus instead of car, or using a plastic reusable coffee cup instead of the throwaway kind, there is no way to completely eradicate your carbon footprint. Every little role does help, but the guilt of pollution and waste should not rest on the individual consumer — especially when it means deciding between personal protection and the environment. It is unsustainable to expect individual people to make expensive and sometimes unfeasible lifestyle changes.

There is a place for sustainability in sex that comes in the form of choosing more environmentally friendly sex toys, or changing the type of protection used. Ultimately, however, the overall impact of sex and the industry that produces these synthetic toys and contraceptives can only be tackled by policy and collective action. Or we can go back to using lamb intestines as protection, but I doubt anyone wants that.