On average, an adult has sex around 54 times a year. But we’re not living in average times, and we haven’t been for some time.
Parts of the world have left lockdown behind (for now) and are living a new normal, but COVID-19 restrictions, as well as the mental health consequences of quarantine measures, have had a big impact on people’s sex lives. Staying inside for months on end has some people turning to celibacy, but others are having more sex than ever. And they’re buying more products to improve their time in the bedroom.
In 2020, the global sex toy market was valued at more than $33 billion. From 2021 to 2028, it is expected to expand at a compound annual growth rate of 8.04 percent. There are a number of things driving this growth, including social media and the way it’s inspiring the growing acceptance (and subsequent popularity) of sexual wellness. The pandemic has also played a big role. People, whether they are single or in a couple, have had a lot more time to themselves to experiment. Lingerie sales have also soared; instead of dipping last year after Valentine’s Day (per usual), they remained steady or increased between March and May.
While sexual wellness products make for a fun, empowering sex life, they do have an environmental impact. But there are more sustainable options out there, including vegan sex toys, lingerie, and lube. But first: protection.
Using a condom is an effective way of protecting against unwanted pregnancy, as well as sexually transmitted diseases that are not transferred via skin-to-skin contact (like herpes or genital warts). According to Planned Parenthood, condoms are, realistically, about 85 percent effective. This is based on the knowledge that “people aren’t perfect.” If everyone used condoms flawlessly all of the time, they would be about 98 percent effective.
Without a doubt, condoms help keep sex safe. But they have a downside: Many are made with stabilizers, preservatives, hardening agents, and non-biodegradable materials like polyurethane. And many aren’t vegan either. This is due to the inclusion of dairy-derived casein, which is used as a softener.
Luckily, there are plenty of vegan, natural, biodegradable options on offer. (You can find our recommendations below!) But whatever you do, and whatever brand you use, there’s one key tip to making condom use more sustainable: Do not flush them down the toilet. They can cause blockages, and if they’re not fished out in time, they can create problems for marine life if they end up in rivers and the sea. Instead, recycle the packaging if you can, and wrap up the condom in a tissue before placing it in the trash bin.
Sometimes, lube can include animal products, like beeswax or animal-derived enzymes. And in the U.S., there is widespread animal testing in the industry, thanks to Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations. In 2015, the FDA began mandating mammalian safety testing for lubricant in the U.S., on the basis of its classification as a Class II medical device. (This is because it can be used to treat conditions, like vaginal dryness, as well as for gynecological examinations.) The FDA mandates the tests to check for irritation and adverse reactions.
But many disagree that these tests are necessary. In partnership with animal rights organization PETA, after the new regulations were announced, women’s hygiene and sexual wellness brand Good Clean Love worked tirelessly to persuade the FDA to accept its animal-free testing methods. They believe that other tests, using cultured human cells for example, are far more accurate than animal tests.
In 2017, for the first time, the FDA finally accepted Good Clean Love’s results of human tests for skin irritation and allergic reactions for its Bio-phresh Restore moisturizing gel. Now, none of its feminine hygiene or aphrodisiac products are animal-tested. But the battle is not yet won for personal lubricant products, and there isn’t much updated information available from Good Clean Love on its progress with the FDA.
But outside of the U.S., there are vegan, cruelty-free lube options out there. You can find our editor’s picks below.
There are many benefits to buying and wearing lingerie, from a self-esteem boost to spicing up your sex life. But there is a downside: A lot of underwear produced is fast fashion. This sector of the fashion industry is notorious for worker exploitation,encouraging wasteful excessive consumption, and draining the planet’s natural resources. Fashion production as a whole makes up 10 percent of carbon emissions, uses an estimated 1.5 trillion liters of water annually, and creates a significant amount of waste. In the UK, it’s estimated that £140 million worth of clothing ends up in the landfill annually, much of which is not biodegradable.
Also, underwear is often made with synthetic materials like nylon and polyester. First, these fabrics aren’t great for all vaginas. (This is because they are not breathable and they trap heat, which can lead to a higher risk of yeast infections.) But these materials don’t break down easily either. Polyester and nylon can take between 20 and 200 years to biodegrade. But the good news is, there are many sustainable lingerie brands out there ready and waiting to get you in the mood. (For sustainable underwear choices, find our guide here, or see our picks below.)
Vegan sex toys
As outlined earlier on, the sex toy market is huge. The vegan sex toys market is also substantial. But as it’s grown market-share-wise, it has hardly progressed at all when it comes to minimizing environmental impact. Many sex toys, including vegan sex toys, are made with plastic. But, there are eco-friendly options out there. (See below for our choices!) Keep an eye out for silicone over plastic. It’s not perfect, it’s not biodegradable, but it’s still a more sustainable choice than traditional plastic. It doesn’t degrade into tiny pieces for example, so it’s more ocean- and earth-friendly.
If you already own non-vegan or vegan sex toys made from plastic and you want to dispose of them, they can be recycled. Lovehoney offers a guide on how to do that here. The company will also accept old sex toys to recycle, even those bought elsewhere.
Giving your sex life a sustainable upgrade is attainable, but it takes a little research and label-reading. Look for the right materials, make your picks, and get on to getting it on.