Did you know that Americans dump 2.75 million pounds of used condoms in their landfills each year? It’s true. Eco-sex may not sound hot, but neither do the industrial pollutants in your domers.
A few weeks ago, as I was hanging out in one of this city’s finer sex shops, I came across an unusual little book.
The cover showed two long female legs alongside the kind of vaguely plant-like patterns that dentists favour on their waiting-room walls. But the blurb promised little less than revolution.
On the cover of Eco-sex, author Stefanie Iris Weiss vows to make you “Go green between the sheets and make your love life sustainable.” Intrigued by the possibility that sex could be unsustainable, I purchased the book at once.
You don’t need to read Eco-sex cover to cover to turn up all sorts of insights into your lovemaking—Weiss is never more than three sentences away from some terrifying tidbit. Did you know that Americans dump 2.75 million pounds of used condoms in their landfills each year? I didn’t. Were you aware that the person you like to snuggle with at night could have up to 456 industrial pollutants, pesticides, and other chemicals sloshing around in them?
Amid the stats, I gleaned two things from the book: (1) A polar bear dies every time two humans get it on, and (2) it’s up to women to do something about it. The book—like most of the eco-sex websites out there—seems squarely targeted at women (statements like “Don’t bring me (unsustainable) flowers” first tipped me off to this).
Curious about this sexual stereotyping, I emailed Weiss, a New York–based journalist. “From date prep—hair, makeup, perfume—to birth control, women buy the stuff of our sex lives,” she replied. She also pointed to the rise of the woman-owned sex shop, saying, “Because of these new, progressive shops, women are empowered to make their own choices about their sexuality.”
In Toronto, if you walk east on Danforth Avenue for five minutes from Pape station, you’ll come to one such store: Red Tent Sisters. The sisters in question are Kim and Amy Sedgwick, two friendly east Toronto natives who run a women-focused store and a website (ecosex.ca) to promote natural products for good sex.
I sought out the Red Tent Sisters after a misguided attempt to research eco-sex online led me to a post from a man asking whether he should re-use his condoms.
For the Sedgwick sisters, eco-sex is about what you put in your body, and what you throw into the environment. Engage them in conversation and soon you will become familiar with two chemical names: parabens and phthalates. Parabens are preservatives that turn up in some lubricants, while phthalates are used to soften plastics.
“The issue with phthalates is that they are an endocrine disruptor,” explains Kim, “and they have been linked to cancer.” Many countries—including Canada—have banned phthalates from baby toys over health concerns, but not from sex toys, which are suspended in regulatory limbo as “novelty products.”
Sex toys are treacherous territory, as there’s no legal requirement for the claims they make on their packaging to be true. The eco-aware sex-toy buyer would, therefore, do best to stick to the higher end of the market, where manufacturers are reputable and declare their products phthalate-free. As an environmental bonus, in the past three years many of the more expensive toys have started making use of rechargeable batteries, meaning that heavy users won’t have to toss out old batteries every five minutes. (To my great sadness, this development has also seemingly stifled efforts to tap renewable sources for vibrator energy, and the solar-powered sex toy is not the force in the market it once was.)
Next to the vibrators in the Red Tent Sisters is a large section devoted to personal lubricants. The environmental movement doesn’t have much kind to say about the common drugstore brands, and the Sedgwicks don’t like them either—there are lots of problems around allergies and yeast infections, which we won’t get into here. There are now several organic lubricants available, which rely heavily on aloe vera to provide the requisite slippiness. But organic lube technology has some way to go, and they generally dry out quicker than their non-organic counterparts.
Sensing an opportunity, the Sedgwicks have begun experimenting with their own organic lube formulations. Kim tells me that they’ve linked up with a lady in Guelph who makes massage oils, and the sisters are currently trying to perfect their formulation. Early results have, it seems, been a disappointment. “We’ve been through, I don’t know, 10 or 15 formulations,” says Kim. “There’s a reason they put so much crap in lube—it’s what makes it work.”
As I leave Red Tent Sisters, I can’t help but imagine that somewhere, out there in Guelph, a kindly lady is stooped over a bubbling cauldron of next-generation organic lube. Kindly lady, the ecosystem is in your hands.