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.

Total
115
Shares

28 comments

  1. Thank you so much for writing this Lauren. I know it surely wasn't easy, as it's a topic that I've avoided talking about for a while too. It's just crazy to me that in this day and age, there aren't reusable condoms. Sure, it might not be as thin or feel as amazing, but it would be great to feel good while we're feeling good.

    Seriously, high fives and hugs for writing this. We so need this conversation to be out there so there can be further positive change for our world. Because we have to be honest. Saving the planet is awesome, but orgasms are too.

    1. Hey Alex, thank YOU for commenting. It really is interesting how sex isn't talked about as much in terms of sustainability. It should be. It is the most intimate thing we do, we should really be conscious of how we are doing it. haha

      Challenge: Reusable condom. Ready, GO!

      Lauren

    1. Hey Stephanie,

      Thank you! I am really happy that you liked it. I think sustainability and sex should totally be discussed more often!

      Thanks for writing,
      Lauren

  2. Wow! Super fascinating, and I've always wanted to know how or if sustainable sex was possible, but was always too embarrassed to ask. So glad you not only shed a ton of light on this important and interesting situation, but thank you for also attempting to eliminate the stigma attached to discussing sex in general. Safe sex is always best practices, but safe sex of the future is also sustainable safe sex. Bravo!

  3. This post is amazing on so many levels. Why is talking about sex so taboo in this country?! You're the bomb for writing about this and I'm excited to try these condoms! I have used Sir Richards (Expo West freebies anyone?!) and it's awesome to know there are other sustainable options out there. On a side note, apparently coconut oil is great as lube (for anyone looking for lube..). Have never tried it though 😛

    1. Hi Kate,

      Thank you SO MUCH! I will definitely share some with you- and I have some giveaways coming up! PS, have totally used coconut oil as lube, and massage oil, oh I also use it as body lotion, in my toothpaste, deodorant, and when I cook kale – so best thing EVER!?

      XX
      Lauren

  4. Thanks so much for bringing awareness to a very important topic! You've got balls girl! ;D PUN INTENDED. What are your thoughts on ladycomp or other fertility monitors? I don't have one myself, but in my own search for sustainable contraceptives I came across this thing (I know, it's a plastic device….but) where you essentially monitor your cycles and in this way become attuned to when you are ovulating, and thus at your most fertile state…and avoid having sex on those days. It's crazy expensive but maybe it's a worthwhile investment? Condoms have a "perfect use" failure rate of 2 whilst basal body temp / cervical mucus fertility awareness has a "perfect use" rate of 0.6…. Have any of you out there tried this? Curious!

  5. Great subject! We should all be more aware about how the products we use are made, they may look like they are good for us and the environment with packaging and such and turns out the company is pouring sludge into our waste water systems or poisoning the air and ground around us.

    I'm also proud that you are making a conscious choice. I've worked in low income schools for over 18 years. I've seen many children who are treated no better than trash.

  6. You know i'am a man but i thought about this too: (Cause i love love)
    The 2 cheapest and most healthy ways to have sex is:

    1) having sex for children, so you don't need contraception. But let's be serious here.
    2) The "billings ovulation method" combined with "temperature measurement". Best natural method available. No harm to the body. It's also wasteless If you buy a reuseable device and learn to repair it after some years 😉 Safer than a condom cause there is no wrong way to use it the moment it's needed the most. But you have to be able to trust your partner to have no STD's. So you have to stop fucking around for environment and start to love. 😉 Somehow i loved to say this…

  7. Hi Lauren,
    There IS an (almost) waste-free method; the Fertility Awareness method. You just have to buy a good digital thermometer. (Mine is 10 years old and it hasn't even needed a new battery.)
    Check out Katie Singers book the Garden of Fertility. I see someone else mentioned it too but thought I would chime in and say it worked for me! Of course, it's not for everyone. You can't have sex on days when you are fertile, so it requires a lot of patience and/or creativity. Might be perfect for you! p.s. I would not trust condoms as 2 of my friends got pregnant while using condoms.

    1. The solution for no monthly waste is a menstrual cup. I've used one for about 6 years & have saved myself a small fortune.

  8. I just found out vegan (Glyde) and fair trade (fair squared) condoms exist. Truly happy with that since chemicals are not for pussies! And now I stumble upon this blog post. What a funny coincidence.

    However the tips given for having sex in a monogamous relationship and not wanting to get pregnant, I'll stick to the condoms instead of measuring my temperature or calculating my cycle. Condoms are still better (both for the environment as for my health) than getting pregnant. I would love it if my partner would get a vasectomy, but he's still shy about it. And doctors still think I'm too young myself (30) to get one.

  9. There was so much good information in here! I definitely learned a lot. The comments section is educational as well; very interesting to hear other people's contraception methods. Thank you for this article and everything you do, lauren.
    However, I did think you would have been a little more comfortable talking about sex on this blog considering your such a natural, earth-connected person. The way the whole article was phrased seemed like you felt awkward about the conversation, whereas I would have expected to sex to be discussed casually, as its part of life and ecosystems and all that. and since when have you cared what society thinks, your entire blog is based off having a progressive mindset. whatever, that just surprised me a little, but keep it up I love everything you do, really!

  10. I love this article and agree that Sustain condoms seem like the best choice for single people looking to mingle 😉 I hope Sustain and other brands will continue striving for more sustainable packaging that can either be recycled or composted some day. Personally I'm married and in a committed, monogamous relationship. We have used the fertility awareness method for 2 years with success and enjoy it as a no-waste, no chemicals, no hormone alternative to conventional birth control. Recently we decided to have a child and the fertility awareness method made conceiving quick and easy- the second month of trying we became pregnant. It was easy because I knew exactly what to look for and when the timing was right! While we haven't currently decided whether to replace ourselves with 2 more humans, or reduce our impact by only creating 1, when we do make that choice I think the most sustainable birth control will be permanent choices of either a vasectomy or tubal ligation. I love that this no-impact lifestyle is be talked about and applied to different parts of everyone's lives though! There is room for thinking about our impact and the environment in all topics including sex and family-planning! Thanks for getting this conversation started.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*
*