Let’s talk about sex.
I have never written about sex before on Trash is for Tossers because it is one of those subjects that people get all weird about which is funny because one of the first questions people ask me is “how do you have sex if you live a Zero Waste life?” A question that I have shamefully, but successfully, ignored for a while now because I didn’t want to divulge my entire sex life on the internet, but whatever, I talk about everything else, why not sex?
The truth is I am a single and ready to mingle 23 year old girl living in Brooklyn. Long story short, I have sex. But…. I do not have Zero Waste sex. When I sleep with someone, it produces waste. Why? Because I use protection.
(((#^!^^#@ BOOM!!!!*@%#^&*))) That was the world exploding.
So, there. I have been leaving out a critical component of my waste for almost two years now. I use contraception and I throw it all in the trash when I am done because, let’s be real, I definitely don’t save condoms in my mason jar of trash. Weird memento, anyone?
I use condoms. Sex makes trash. But I DEFINITELY want to protect myself. Yet with so many options: birth control, IUD, condoms, dental dams and a slew of other thangs, it seems really hard to choose the best option. The fact of the matter is I don’t want an IUD, no thank you to a copper sculpture of ovaries in my ovaries, and I don’t want a pill playing battleship with my hormones, so no birth control. I want my contraception to have as little physical impact on me as possible- and so that leaves me with condoms. On top of that it’s really difficult to know where sustainability comes into play because it’s not really a selling point when you are trying to avoid getting pregnant or contracting STD’s. Girl says to guy at pharmacy “Excuse me, is it possible to save the rainforest while also staving off chlamydia?”
But here’s where it gets interesting. Until recently, I had never purchased a condom myself. I had always expected the guy I was with to have one, and if he didn’t… we didn’t. And i’m not alone. Only 40% of all condoms in the US are purchased by women. Then I started seeing these brands thrown around, Sir Richards, L Condoms, Sustain, and something clicked and I realized that not all contraception is created equal and I became really curious. Is it even possible to be conscious consumers when it comes to our sex lives? The answer is yes. We can. The choices that we make, or don’t make, when it comes to sex have real impacts on both our bodies and the planet.
To learn more about sustainability in mah sex life, I interviewed Meika Hollender, the super cool Co-Founder and Marketing Director of what I see to be the most sustainable option out there, Sustain Condoms.
Tell me a little about sustain – how did it start, what was the idea?
Our family has a deep history in natural products with Seventh Generation, and I was always involved in different ways with that business, but never worked there full time. Jeffrey Hollender, my dad and boss, had an idea for a sustainable condom about ten years ago and never pursued it because he was running Seventh Generation.
A little over two years ago I was in business school and knew I didn’t want to work in traditional marketing anymore. At the same time, Jeff was starting to write the business plan for what became Sustain and was sort of consulting me on the business plan, and I became more interested in Sustain. Then we started talking more about what it would be like if I started the company with him, what that would look like… and as he began deciding that he was going to market to women and I started reading more about the statistics around reproductive health, how low condom usage rates are among my peers, and just the general need and lack of access that so many women in the US have to reproductive health services, I became more and more passionate about having a larger role in sustain.
Once I knew that I really wanted to start the business with him, the only sort of thing that we had to figure out was from a family business management standpoint: how it was going to affect our relationship. So that was a much harder thing to figure out, to decide, but ultimately, it just felt right.
How is it working with your father?
Its been amazing. It has been inspiring, it has been trying, it has been been a lot of growth for both of us. For me, he is my dad, also my boss, also my business partner. There are a lot of different relationships and dynamics but the amazing thing about working together is that we are coming at the business from two different perspectives. I’m our target market, I have grown up in the digital era, and I know how brands communicate today. He has this wealth of knowledge around sustainability, supply chain, operations, corporate responsibility, and is just a really successful business man. He knows what he’s doing and I think our combined insights and outlooks have really benefited us so far.
Sex was never really something I talked openly about with my dad. Why do you think “the talk” is so difficult for kids and parents?
I think a lot of it is on the parents. I read a really interesting article a couple of weeks ago about sex positive parenting and I think that it starts with the parents, and especially for me, my parents always made themselves totally open to talking to us about boys, and girls, and relationships. Not getting into extreme detail, but they were always like, “how’s it going?”, “are you going on a date?” They were just always open to the situation. Also, my mom and dad were very much like, “whenever you are thinking about having sex, if you are comfortable, please come to us, we want to help you, protect yourself, and be safe about it”. So my dad was the one I went to when I was thinking about having sex, and I just told him. It wasn’t a long conversation because we had covered a lot of the bases before, about the options and making sure it was the right person.
“The talk” has been something for us, in our father-daughter condom business duo, that we are really passionate about: making parents create an environment so that kids want to have those conversations with them and so that they feel comfortable. I think the idea of trying to shield your kids from sex and sexuality is impossible today because of the Internet, but also it is sending the wrong message. It’s making something that is natural, that is part of life, part of your health, part of your happiness, feel dangerous and taboo.
I think that is where a lot of the issues around women not using condoms, and not talking about condoms, comes from and it really fuels that taboo around sex and contraception in general. Especially our generation is putting themselves at risk because we’re not using condoms consistently. Only 19% of single women use condoms regularly and that’s terrible. STD’s are on the rise, AIDS is on the rise in certain communities, but I think it is really the parent’s responsibility to create that safe environment.
Sex is never something that I wrote about on Trash is for Tossers before, but something that I have been asked about a lot. “How do you have Zero Waste sex?” Truthfully there is no Zero Waste way to have sex without foregoing a condom or protection altogether. All methods of contraception produce waste of some sort, so what options do people have when it comes to safe but sustainable sex?
What a lot of people don’t really know is that latex condoms are a natural resource. It is a sustainable resource. Latex is the sap of rubber trees. So you are starting with a pretty sustainable product because, unlike a lot of other products that come from trees, you are not harming the tree in any way when you are tapping the sap (no pun intended), which is the latex.
Our condoms are sustainable for many reasons but first is they are latex, they are a natural resource. They come from the only fair trade certified plantation in the world that makes latex for condoms, which is in southern India.
There is actually a pretty terrible and sort of dirty history about the rubber industry that a lot of people don’t know about, and it still exists today. There is a ton of child labor, really bad working conditions, and we, Jeffrey especially because this is what he is so passionate about, had read so much around and about the history of the rubber industry that it was his mission to find a fair trade certified plantation. Our plantation is also FSC certified. It is a really amazing place and 100% of the workers children are in school, everyone has free health care. It’s really a nice place and different from what you will find in most of the rubber industry.
Then, other than where our product is coming from, there is our manufacturer, which is also in southern India. The workers are unionized, it’s light, it’s cool. I spent 10 days there in June. It’s a really nice place and not what you would expect from a traditional Indian manufacturing facility. On top of that, we also discovered, and there is a German study on this and hopefully a US study published soon, that shows that condoms contain high levels of nitrosamines, which are carcinogens. So we were extremely adamant about having no detectable levels of nitrosamines in our condoms.
Nitrosamines are not something that you add to rubber. They occur naturally in the manufacturing process when the latex is being heated and molded. But you can add something to the process to prevent the nitrosamines from occurring in the latex.
The FSC actually does regulate nitrosamines in pacifiers. The way they are exposed to the body are through heat and moisture, so for instance during sex. So we added, and it’s extremely inexpensive to do this, a safe chemical during the manufacturing process to prevent the nitrosamines from occurring. To the best of our knowledge, we are the only nitrosamine-free condom on the market. We also don’t add spermicide or anything else toxic. No dyes, no fragrances. There is also an odor masker that a lot of condoms use, because the smell of latex isn’t amazing, so a lot of products use an odor masker chemical that is somewhat toxic, but we don’t. Then there are the other aspects of our business that we feel make us sustainable from a responsibility standpoint such as our 10%4Women fund. We are giving 10% of our profits to women’s reproductive health in the US because 20 million women lack access to those services.
What modes of contraception are more sustainable than others?
At the end of the day the #1 cause of climate change is overpopulation and 50% of pregnancies are unintended in the US (in the age 15-44 age category, significantly higher than in most other developed countries). That being said, using contraception, whether it is an IUD or condom or pill, is sustainable. I think holistically you can’t make the argument that one form of birth control is not sustainable because unplanned pregnancy is unsustainable. Having children that we can’t feed, that we can’t take care of, having overpopulation, from a meta and systems thinking standpoint, is completely unsustainable.
I think using our condoms is the most sustainable from a supply chain standpoint and my philosophy on non-toxic living and doing what’s natural, but I don’t like to put other forms of contraception down because I think it is important for women to be using contraception. The thing that sort of gets lost among our generation for some reason is that using just the pill or using an IUD and having casual sex is okay and safe. The conversation needs to be around the reality that no matter who you are, no matter what demographic you are in, when you are having unprotected sex you are exposing yourself to STD’s.
What makes Sustain condoms different from others?
Our goal and Jeffrey’s goal always is not to point our finger and criticize our competitors- we want to provide an example of how you can do business better. You can make a more sustainable, healthier, safer product and still make money. That is our goal. We want to inspire and be an example for the rest of the condom manufacturers.
SO there. We did it, we talked about sex. We made it. Take aways? Protect yourself. Have fun. Be mindful. Use protection. Remember everything that you buy, even condoms, has an impact and you as a consumer can be powerful and make a choice to 1) be informed and 2) buy better.