*WARNING – this post contains some very mature themes and sexual references*
So, sex – it’s pretty great (obvs, not everyone is of this opinion but this post isn’t really for them). But what is less great are unwanted babies and STDs. That is where the modern miracle of contraception comes in! I am here to tell you that you CAN indulge in all your sexy desires, stay safe, and maintain a low environmental impact!
I will say that NOTHING is more unsustainable than putting another person on the planet (especially unwanted ones) – this should be avoided at all costs!! Luckily, us millennials/Gen Zs are killing every other industry, so the baby industry might as well be next! Babies, you have been warned.
Honestly, the only thing that will keep you safe form children and/or STDs are condoms/femdoms/dental dams. But these are NOT reusable (despite what some may say). Until such a time you find a long-term bae (if ever, who needs ’em?) where you are both tested and on appropriate long-acting reversible contraception, the aforementioned are your best bet. It is impossible to have safe, zero-waste sex without a trusted sex partner!
While some of what I am going to cover mostly applies to everyone (i.e. condoms, etc.), most of what I am going to cover is geared towards penis-in-vagina sex. Enjoy xx
Abstinence is on there to make sure I don’t go straight to hell (NHS)
Condoms/Female Condoms/Dental Dams:
Okay, so, in terms of safe sex – condoms are king! This should be pretty much common sense. Don’t be silly, wrap your willy. Condoms come in all shapes (really just one shape), sizes, colours, and flavours – so there shouldn’t be any issues with finding one that works for you. Unfortunately, by virtue of what they’re made of and their single-use purpose, condoms are not ‘zero-waste’ but there are some things you can do to feel better about using them! Remember, using a few condoms is wayyy more sustainable than having to be treated for an STD or putting whole other person on the planet!
Making good choices makes all the difference, in all areas of your life – from sliding it in, to buying a car. Condoms are always going to come in those little safety foil wrappers (until they come up with something better) which are not recyclable, so there’s no winning on that front. But you can buy more ethically sourced condoms!
These condoms are all-natural rubber latex and vegan finished. The rubber is fairtrade and sourced from a plantation in Southern India. These condoms are produced in Germany.
L. condoms are are fair trade and eco-friendly. For every condom purchased, one is donated to a developing community. Particular attention is paid to women and girls, who are exclusively hired to distribute the condoms in the recipient communities.
These condoms are produced from natural rubber latex sourced from a sustainable FSC organic rubber plantation in Southern India. The condoms are vegan (no animals proteins used in finishing) and are free of carcinogenic nitrosamines. The plantation workers are paid a living wage and no child labour is used.
These condoms are vegan, fair trade, and ethically made. The rubber is sourced from sustainably run plantations with efforts to reduce carbon footprints. The packaging is recycled and uses vegetable inks for printing. The company also donates millions of condoms to HIV/AIDS prevention.
Sir Richard’s condoms are vegan, chemical-free, and made from natural rubber latex. For every condom sold, they donate one to the developing world.
Half of the rubber produced every year is synthetic, the other half is naturally occurring latex. Rubber (what latex is made from) production originated in the Amazon basin and is produced from the sap of the native Pará rubber tree. Amazonian have been producing latex products long before the white people came and stole that too. Now, most of the natural rubber latex is produced on plantations in Asia.
Natex is a company, in partnership with Wild Rubber, that produces condoms from independent rubber tappers and wild trees in the Amazon rainforest. These types of rainforest products are incredibly valuable as they help locals earn money from the forest without deforesting! The Brazilian government purchases these condoms for free distribution in the fight against AIDS. Nine million of these froest-friendly condoms were given away at the Rio Olympics in 2016! Unfortunately, they do not currently sell them internationally, but perhaps they will in the future!
More Natex condoms = Less deforestation
Most of the eco/ethical condom companies I could find were based in America. You can still buy them online but all that shipping probably negates any environmental good the condom itself does. If you are lucky enough to live near a zero-waste or whole foods type of shop, see if they carry some ethical condoms! I do know, however, most people my age get their condoms from the clinic because free – condoms are not factored into a student budget, unfortunately.
I bet you didn’t know that condoms are compostable! Well, now you do. You can throw a condom in your compost heap and it will biodegrade (albeit quite slowly). This only applies to the natural rubber latex condoms – do not throw synthetic latex condoms in the compost, as they do not degrade and will stay there forever. The Pasante ones you get from clinics on the NHS are made from natural rubber latex! If you plan to compost your condoms, stick to water-based lubricants. Also, I wouldn’t suggest composting your condoms if you don’t have a private compost bin at home. It might not be ideal for others to be finding your used condoms in their communual compost bin!
Whatever you do with your condoms, never flush them down the toilet!!! No matter what they are made of. Theses will clog our sewers and could end up in the ocean. Not even natural latex condoms biodegrade in water. A giant fatberg that formed and blocked a sewer in London was comprised mainly of flushed condoms.
Synthetic condoms are made from petrochemicals, which is not great for a number of reasons. Not least being oil extraction methods. So, where possible try to stick to natural latex ones. I know some people are allergic to latex so they should definitely continue to use whatever condoms they want (except lambskin ones, that’s gross and don’t protect from STIs). Here are some of the condoms that are made from synthetic materials.
Each condoms comes in its own individual safety foil wrapper – this is plastic-covered aluminum foil. This is not recyclable, which isn’t great. With such a big push at the moment to reduce the amount of waste we produce (especially plastic) this unavoidable waste stings a bit. So, you could try having less sex (ew) or you could save up your condom wrappers and have a go at making an Ecobrick!
An Ecobrick is a plastic bottle filled with non-recyalable plastics – like crisp packets and condom wrappers! The bottle is tightly packed with plastics so that it becomes rock solid (it would take a lot of condom wrappers – so get busy). These ‘bricks’ can then be used to make all kinds of things. They have become especially useful in emerging economies where they have a lot of rubbish and a lack of infrastructure to properly deal with it. It kills two birds with one stone! In countries such as the UK, it is more of a novelty thing but can still be amazingly useful – you could build some furniture or flower beds, using rubbish!
The IUDs are small, t-shaped pieces of plastic that are inserted into your womb by a trained medical professional. They prevent pregnancy by releasing copper and making the womb uninhabitable by both sperm and the egg – the womb becomes no mans land. This an example of Long-Acting Reversible Contraception (LARC) as once the device is removed, fertility returns to normal. The IUD can remain in place for 5-10 years, depending on the type. Periods can become heavier, longer, and more painful but it really depends on the person. I have the copper IUD – so, no babies for me. I love it! I am fortunate enough to have minimal period discomfort (some of my friends can’t move from their bed when bleeding, because it hurts so much) and this foreign object only makes the cramps mildly worse. There is also an Intraunterine System (IUS) which is a hormonal version working to thicken the cervical mucus and thin the womb lining to prevent pregnancy.
There is an increased risk of developing Bacterial Vaginosis or BV (is NOT an STI) with the IUD/IUS, which I have become far too familiar with since getting mine put in. I am very reluctant to get rid of my coil as its so easy – there’s nothing to remember and no hormones (so no contraceptive depression!). I’m not yet at the point where I want it out, but unless I can figure out the trigger for the BV, I may have to reconsider my contraceptive options.
This method will stay with you for a long time so that means less resources and a lower environmental impact! Unfortunately it does not protect against STIs, only babies, so you’ll still need to use a condom if you’re at risk of catching one. Also, if you continue to get BV, you’ll continue to need to treat BV – this is not so great for the environment (or your body, if using antibiotics). The nurse at the clinic told me that it will go away on it’s own, eventually, but that’s a lot longer than I would like to have it.
Hormonal contraceptives either work by preventing the release of an egg each month or by thickening the cervical mucus and thinning the uterine lining to prevent sperm reaching the egg and the egg implanting. I was on the pill for the best part of a year and I liked the freedom of worry-free sex. But it really came at cost – I was depressed, gained loads of weight, and generally wasn’t myself. I would find myself snapping really easily at the guy I was seeing and generally being kind of a bitch. So, at that point I decided I’d rather just use condoms than put myself through all that. But everyone reacts differently to hormones and there are so many different types of pills to choose from.
Unfortunately, they all have side-effects (having a vagina van be so tough). Symptoms include increased risk of blood clots, increased risk of cancer, increased risk of depression, and mood swings. But they can be invaluable, many women suffer from excruciating period pain or have endometriosis – the combined pill can help reduce pain levels greatly.
Environmentally wise, the less often something needs replacing or topping up, the better. The pill hormonal comes in plastic blister packs, which are recyclable, but it is better to avoid plastic water where possible. And as you have to constantly take the pills it can add up to a lot of plastic! Hormonal birth control also contributes (along with many other sources) to the estrogen pollution of our environment – this has a negative impact on the reproductive capabilities of fish. Again, hormonal birth controls do not protect from STIs, so condoms will still be needed.
This is a Long-Acting Reversible Contraceptive for men! A polymer gel is injected into the sperm-carrying tubes in the scrotum. The gel carries a positive charge which damages the negatively charged sperm cells, rendering them infertile. This method of contraception is 98% effective and is as permanent as you want it to be. The gel is dissolved by a second injection and fertility returns to normal! Your performance is not affected.
This is a great development in contraception as it finally relieves some of the burden on women! It will vastly reduce waste but, as with all the other contraceptives, it should still be used with condoms if you are with a new partner (or if you or your partner have been in contact with an STI).
If you are certain that you’ll never wanna produce a mini-me, then sterilisation could be the answer for you! Your reproductive organs are permanently closed off (it is possible to have it reversed but not guaranteed, so it’s best to be sure) to prevent a baby invasion. Both penis-having and vagina-having people can be surgically sterilised (it’s one of the few ways men can contribute to contraception 🙄). Obviously, sterilisation doesn’t mean you can never have kids – you could have your stuff frozen, you could foster or adopt, or you could just get a pet.
Sterisation is one of the more sustainable /zero-waste options as it’s done once and you’re done forever. But, of course, if you have sex with people you don’t know that well etc. you should 100% use a condom because being sterile does not protect you from STIs.
‘Natural’ Family Planning:
Natural Family Planning is possible, but you really have to be committed to the cause. Like really committed. Which I suppose you would be, if you didn’t want a baby! This method of contraception involves a woman keeping track of a number of indicators everyday and keep a log of them. These factors include recording your basal body temperature, changes to your cervical secretions, and the length of your menstrual cycle. Small changes in your life can change how accurate the readings are – things such as illness, stress, travel, or other lifestyle factors.
This method, when used perfectly, can be up to 99% effective – that’s the same as condoms! But when you are ‘fertile’ you have to either avoid sex or use a condom. There are apps you can get to help you to remember to measure your indicators and to keep track of them. These apps are not a substitute for getting advice from a trained specialist! I am skeptical of methods like this, it just seems like such a big gamble. People forget stuff. And, who has the time (or energy) to be taking their temperature and measuring their mucus everyday?
How ‘eco’ this method of contraception is really depends on how much sex you’re having. If you are having little to no sex then this is great for that as it would almost be a waste to use another kind of contraception. But if you are having a lot of sex
The diaphragm is a a soft, circular piece of silicone that is inserted into the vagina to cover the cervix and prevent sperm from entering the uterus. The diaphragm is covered in spermcidal jelly before insertion, to kill the sperm. The cap needs to be left in place for 6 hours after sex and more spermicide is needed if it has been in place for more than 3 hours before use. This method of contraception is 92-96% effective. You cannot use it during your period as there is a risk of getting Toxic Shock Syndrome, so alternative contraception will need to be used or sex should be avoided. A diaphragm will last up to a year, if cared for properly.
In my opinion, a diaphragm seems like a lot of work. But in terms of waste and environmentalism is it better for the environment than using a load of condoms. Obviously, if you have a new partner or are on your period you should use condoms anyway – so it doesn’t completely eliminate the need for condoms. Also, silicone is a plastic and therefore a derivative of crude oil – which is generally not great.
Long-acting reversible contraceptives are the most sustainable in terms of waste generation and baby prevention, But the only sure-fire way to prevent STIs is to use condoms and dental dams. Sex should be fun so you need to be comfortable with the contraceptive you are using. You obviously can use any information you like to make a decision on contraceptives but ensure it is YOUR decision and that you are happy with it. You might have noticed that I did not list the ‘pull-out’ method above – this is because it is not a method of contraception and should not be done.
If you want to read some more about my vagina, check out my Sustainable Period post!
I’ve overshared about my sex life, why don’t you – let’s chat in the comments!
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