Yasmin Al-najar explores the intersection between racial injustice and sexual (and reproductive) liberation
How to Make Your Sex Life More Sustainable
Tips and tricks to have world saving sex
In the current climate crisis, it’s no longer an option for anyone to hide away in blissful ignorance. We all have a job to do; using our best efforts to live a more sustainable lifestyle. There’s been a recent (understandable) uproar over the lack of sustainability in leading industries marketed towards womxn, such as fashion and makeup. The statistics for environmental damage caused by makeup made without a conscience and fast fashion are alarming, but what about the sex industry? Do our sex lives keep the planet happy?
Whether or not our sexual choices are sustainable is a difficult conversation to have, let alone start. People, particularly womxn, have spent decades having their sex lives policed, controlled or suppressed – so it feels counterproductive as a feminist to invite further reason to tell people how to have sex. However, in a time where impactful action is an urgent priority, it’s worth highlighting the less-than-ethical areas of sex and allowing people to make informed eco-sexual decisions.
To thoroughly understand our choices, it’s important to first outline where the damage to the planet really comes from. Ruth Douglas founded Eroticon; a convention for erotic writers and other creators, and Imp Ideas; a marketing agency working with brands in the adult industry. She kindly shared her expertise with me on how damaging to the environment the sex industry can really be.
“As with many sectors, the environmental impact of sex toys can be considered in term of the energy and materials used to produce them, as well as the packaging and the impact of goods in transit,” Ruth explains that for the most part, our toys are safe. Once used, products with electrical elements can, in theory, be recycled. Though, it’s unlikely that the average user will take the time to take apart their toys and recycle them accurately when binning them is much faster. And since the average sex toy is made up of complex materials and parts—like ABS plastics, silicone, electronic parts, jelly-like products and rechargeable batteries—they can’t just go in the same green recycling tub your empty wine bottles go in. They’re usually considered a hazardous material by government-run disposal companies. Basically, no bin man wants to touch the junk that’s been near your junk.
With recycling proving a difficult option, it’s more suitable for companies’ mass-manufacturing sex toys to reconsider their production choices with an ethical mind. Leading sex toy company LoveHoney hosts a sustainability scheme where you can send the sex toys you’ve finished using, and they’ll recycle them for you. Schemes like these are most likely inspired by Come as You Are, a Toronto-based online sex shop which was the first sex shop to begin a recycling programme. Their approach uses drop-in centres and they provide a whole host of information about sustainable sex on their website.
Similarly to the makeup industry, another big issue for sustainability is selling in and sourcing from China. “Many retailers and brands in the UK source products from China, which adds a transit carbon footprint. The Doxy Massager is an exception, as they source their materials and create the product in the UK,” Ruth adds. With this information in mind, when shopping a new toy online, it’s perhaps worth scrolling down to the bottom of the website and having a read through their sustainability statements or production information (usually located in the footer).
The sex trade is simply behind in terms of sustainability, compared to other industries. A lot of sectors have a code of conduct or index for sustainability, which is a set of rules companies must adhere to, to be considered sustainable. These criteria usually include procuring other brands or supplying from them with attention to their treatment of workers and their level of environmental impact. According to Ruth, “It’s worth considering the human impact of an overseas supply chain [if you’re buying a product sourced from or sold in China. At present, as far as I’m aware, Eva Amour is the only sex toy retailer that reviews the supply chain for the ethical treatment of workers.”
There isn’t much of a conversation in the sex industry around sustainability and environmental impact. Ruth summaries; “In a highly competitive industry that thrives on new products and ideas, the companies who can add ecologically-friendly credentials to their products and supply chain will give themselves a competitive edge.”
This is true of Tom Thurlow, founder of www.Ricky.com. This new sex toy business was founded on the ugly truth that a lot of sex toys can be bad for our planet. Ricky provides an array of varied sex toys. They’re your typical sex toys ranging from dildos to cock rings, bullets and rabbits, with the sole USP being that the entire collection is rechargeable. In the age of environmental consciousness, Ricky’s founder believes the days of battery-powered sex toys are over, and providing an alternative gives them a competitive edge in a saturated market.
Thurlow comments “We’re so used to standard battery-operated sex toys, that many consumers don’t consider an alternative when shopping for a new device. In many cases, batteries that are only used a handful of times and then thrown away when toy begins reducing in quality. Ditching the damaging items and opting for rechargeable sex toys not only ensures that your purchase will perform as effectively on the 100th use as it did on the first, but there are also no batteries to be binned at the end of it”. This ultimately means you can save money and save the planet while getting to use a higher-quality product.
“Batteries are also sometimes just put in the bin and not actually recycled which means they’ll end up in the landfill. Not to mention the packaging, so many companies deliver their toys to customers in plastic packaging which is thrown away once unwrapped” [and we all know the dangers of plastic on our planet!]. Because of this, Thurlow opts to deliver Ricky’s products in brown boxes, allowing them to be recycled and help the planet rather than directly damaging it.
As companies progress to more mindful business management, it would be ideal to see similar recycling schemes to LoveHoney’s, and rechargeable options like Ricky’s being prioritised by all sex toy companies.
Taking Thurlow’s advice into account, it may be more sustainable for the environment and the longevity of pleasure for consumers to opt for rechargeable or mains-operated toys. Of course, an important factor to consider in this quest for sustainability is affordability. A lot of non-battery-powered sex toys are on the pricey side, but if you have the ability to save, it’s more worth your coin (and your time) to get a slightly more expensive, but more reliable toy. I personally recommend the LoveHoney Classic Mains-Powered Magic Wand. I’ve owned this vibrator for around two years; it’s still the same high quality it was when I first unboxed it, and I’ve never binned batteries poisonous materials as a result!
When it comes to creating a sustainable sex life, it’s also worth considering the sources of our ‘sexy clothes’. Whether you’re a classic lingerie, baby doll or basque kind of person, a lot of the clothes we purchase with sexy intentions may be damaging the very planet we have sex in.
By now, most of us will be familiar with the dark statistics of clothing and the Earth. The fast fashion industry manufactures 1 billion garments annually, 97% of which is produced overseas, usually in poor working conditions for low pay. In 2015 alone, 92 million tonnes of waste was produced by the fashion industry, and the number of garments produced since has doubled. Lingerie is no exception to the damage caused to the planet by fast fashion, and so it’s time we ditch labels like Agent Provocateur and Victoria’s Secret (who come with a myriad of separate social awareness problems) and select our ‘date night clothes’ from brands with a conscience.
The heightened awareness around ethical manufacturing has prompted environmentally friendly lingerie start-ups to sprout, offering us more options which allow us to support small business and the environment. Brands like Cosabella, Organic Basics and Only Hearts provide artisanal lingerie pieces, consciously crated and designed to last. While they’re not always filled with the designs we’d consider the sexiest, it’s time to redefine sexy as sustainable, robust and comfortable, rather than plastic, unethical, and obsolete.
Finding the perfect sex toys, clothes and adult products is a very individual experience. For that reason, it’s unrealistic to expect people to abandon anything that doesn’t tick every box of the sustainability criteria. I’m not here to tell you how to have sex, and no one else can police that either. But if you’re interested in making a dent in the damage humans have made to the environment and making some more informed choices while having sex, these resources are here for you. Its sexy to give a shit about the environment.