From the rhythm method to condoms, choosing the right eco-conscious contraception choice is trickier than planning how many children to have.
Making love can be a low-impact, eco-friendly form of pleasure that generates warmth and joy without taxing our environment, as long as couples are careful to mitigate the impact of unwanted pregnancies. There are many options for family planning – including opting out of procreating altogether for the sake of an overcrowded Mother Earth – some that are better for peoples’ and the planet’s health, and others that are decidedly less so.
Concerned about hermaphroditic fish and other byproducts of intimacy? Read on to learn the pros and cons on contraception for tree-huggers in love.
No one will deny that the birth control (BC) pill revolutionized female reproduction, and over a half-century after their introduction, scientists are busy searching for a male-pill counterpart. But there’s a dark side to these hormones, known as endocrine disrupters; over time, the amount of them excreted through urine (and also via the use of hormones in agri-business) has meant that they have ended up in our wastewater system.
More research is necessary to fully flush out (no pun intended) the impact of synthetic vs. natural estrogen/progestin (the most common active ingredients in the pill), but there’s no denying some icky truths of hormone over-use: Inter-sexed fishes and amphibians at the tail end of this excretion, and precocious puberty in children unwittingly exposed to hormones via trace amounts in the food chain.
Besides improving the water treatment facilities (which is up to the authorities), what can eco-conscious lovers do? Switch to a pill with lower amounts of these hormones (if possible), or better yet, rethink this ecological gamble and opt for less toxic BC options. The pill is approximately 92% effective.
Most condoms sold worldwide, including here in the Middle East, are made of biodegradable latex (good, right?) but are treated with compounds that aren’t eco or body friendly (bad!). Women in particular can experience unpleasant side effects from the lubrications and hardening agents (they’ve got to withstand a certain amount of friction, after all). Vaginal irritation and dryness, skin reactions, fatigue, diminished libido and pain upon intercourse have all been linked to many lubrications and condoms.
Then there is the issue of waste not, want not. Condoms are one-time use disposable products that end up in our landfills, and many don’t breakdown quickly enough (rubber/latex) or not at all (Polyurethane). Add up all those condoms and wrappers and, well, that’s a whole lotta love waste – tons, in fact.
Another concern: eco-sexuality advocates need to ask, just where do our rubbers come from, and are they made from sustainably harvested, fair-trade materials?
Fortunately, a few condom companies are now in the business of making sex and reproduction safer for you and the planet, including Love Begins with L., a women-focused online distributor that also gives away free condoms to women in underdeveloped countries who otherwise couldn’t afford them. Bottom line: condoms may be the right option for you if you want to prevent the spread of diseases as well as unwanted pregnancy, and you’ll be doing the planet better if you go with the greenest condom options. In general, condoms are about 83% effective.
Reusable barrier options are on the surface greener than the pill and condoms: reusable is good. One challenge is that they are also known to have higher fail rates unless the user uses them correctly (effectiveness can be as low as 77%, depending on the type and user error). One little mistake can mean that your carbon footprint will increase quite significantly in 10 months time…
Intrauterine device (IUD):
Perhaps the most surprising greenest barrier option is the IUD. It’s hormone-free, long lasting (up to a decade), made from small amounts of cheap, plentiful metal (copper), and 99 percent effective. Stefanie Iris Weiss, author of Eco-Sex: Go Green Between the Sheets and Make your Love Life Sustainable (2010) considers the IUD the most sustainable BC method. This holds true particularly for people in long-term partnerships for whom STDs aren’t a worry.
Natural Family Planning:
For those who want to go completely au natural with regards to family planning, there is always the option of monitoring a woman’s menstrual cycle. The Justisse Method, for example, teaches women to monitor and interpret the three primary signs of fertility: cervical mucus secretions, basal body temperature and cervical position.
Women who learn this method chart their fertility according to their own reliable signs, which means in theory that it can be effective despite variations in menstrual cycles. It is certainly cost effective and free of side effects (good!), with the exception of a fail rate (reported up to 23%) strongly dependent on a woman being adequately trained and committed to the daily regime of charting the ebb and flow of her cycle.