Give your sex life a sustainable upgrade with vegan sex toys, lingerie, and lube.
On average, an adult has sex around 54 times a year. But we’re not living in average times. COVID-19 restrictions and lockdown measures, as well as the mental health consequences of being quarantined in the house for months on end, have had a big impact on people’s sex lives. Some people have turned to celibacy, but others are having more sex than ever, and they’re buying more products to improve their time in the bedroom. But what does this excessive consumption mean for sustainability and the planet?
Has the Pandemic Impacted Sex?
Not everyone is interested in sexual activity at the moment. For some, whether solo or in a relationship, sex has dropped way down on the priority list. This could be for a number of reasons, like more childcare responsibilities or work-related stresses. Pandemic-related anxiety is also a common reason for low libido right now. If this is you, don’t worry. As clinical sexologist and sociologist Sarah Melancon PhD told Healthline: “Not being interested in sex during a global crisis is completely normal.”
But, if sex is an enjoyable act of self-care and/or escapism for you at the moment, that’s also totally normal. And you’re not alone. In fact, sales of sex toys and lingerie are up overall.
Why Are Sex Toy & Lingerie Sales Soaring?
As lockdown restrictions were imposed and stay-at-home orders were issued, the dating game changed beyond recognition. Quite frankly, meeting another person for a hook-up has become potentially dangerous.
If you have a bubble outside of your household or you’re cohabiting, of course, you can enjoy sex in the flesh. But, if this doesn’t apply, what’s a person to do about sex when they’re locked up inside their home for the foreseeable future? Well, there are a few choices. You can try virtual sex, abstaining completely, or indulging in some self-pleasure.
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 a lot more time to themselves to experiment.
The market analysis report notes: “The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has forced people worldwide to stay indoors or self-isolate at homes and practice self-care, including self-pleasure.” It continues: “Sales of products such as personal massagers, vibrators, flashlights, blindfolds, handcuffs, and bondage items have surpassed the estimated sales for the last 3 months compared to 2019.”
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. Whether it’s bought for Zoom dates, self-pleasure, or worn with a physical partner, people are more open to lingerie for one key reason, says Todd Mick, an innerwear analyst for market research company NPD. He told The New York Times: “What I think is really happening is that sexy lingerie is self-care.”
How to Give Your Sex Life a Sustainable Upgrade
Sexual wellness products make for a fun, empowering sex life. But if you’re conscious about their environmental impact, there are choices you can make that are kinder to the planet. Keep reading for some eco-conscious options, including sustainable, vegan sex toys, lingerie, and lube.
Using a condom is an effective way of protecting against unwanted pregnancy, as well as sexually transmitted diseases that are not transmitted 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, like stylish Hanx, for example. Designed to “hold their own” against other beauty and lifestyle products, Hanx’s condoms aim to make the owner proud. The brand wants customers to feel comfortable proudly displaying their Hanx boxes in their bathrooms alongside their skincare and other daily go-to’s.
But as well as making a good-looking product, the brand also cares deeply about sustainability. Instead of casein, Hanx uses a plant-based extract to ensure the smoothness of its product, co-founder Dr. Sarah Welsh told LIVEKINDLY. “Developing our condoms and lube to be gentle, vegan, ethical, cruelty-free and usable by most people was an obvious decision to make,” she explained.
“HANX Fair Rubber latex condoms are biodegradable — you can dispose of them in your household waste or compost and they’ll decompose under the influence of light and oxygen usually after about 3 months,” she added. “All our HANX outer boxes are made from recyclable cardboard, while our lube bottles are made from recycled, recyclable plastic.”
She notes that while the condoms are currently wrapped in foil for freshness (this is necessary, as condoms are a CE-certified medical device), Hanx is conscious of improving sustainability in this area. “Watch this space,” she said. “We are [reviewing] the options that help to reduce our carbon footprint and innovations in packaging that are in line with medical device standards.”
Berlin-based Einhorn is another brand that provides sustainable, vegan condoms. It’s also on a mission to make buying protection more fun and accessible. Its products even come in a quirky potato chip-like bag. Even better, 50 percent of Einhorn’s profits go towards paying its workers 15 percent above the minimum wage, finding alternatives to agriculture chemicals, and creating environmentally friendly packaging.
Australia-based brand Jonny offers ultra-thin condoms that are vegan (and palm oil-free!), eco-friendly, and non-toxic. The brand’s condoms are not made from non-latex, which is made from plastic. Instead, Jonny condoms feature a non-medicated natural rubber latex.
There’s also Buff Condoms. Set to launch on Indiegogo this month, all of its condoms are vegan and compostable, and they’re made, specifically, for all genders. It’s the first condom brand to market its products this way. Founder Rosy Candin told Dazed Digital: “I’ve got friends who are non-binary, and I thought that would be really dysphoric for them. I kept looking to see if there were gender-neutral and inclusive condoms and I couldn’t find any, so I thought I’d make one.”
Hanx, Einhorn, and Buff aren’t alone; other vegan condom brands include Glyde, Sir Richards, Lola, Sustain, and Royal.
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.
CEO and founder Wendy Strgar of Good Clean Love told Forbes in 2016: “There is no other animal in the kingdom that has the same kind of vagina as humans.” She added: “I never wanted to test on animals and I’m angry that I was forced to do it. And, in the end, animal testing doesn’t even tell us about toxicity. That’s the most stupid and tragic part of the whole thing.”
In 2017, for the first time, the FDA finally accepted its 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.
The latest update on its website reads: “None of our products contain animal byproducts. And, no Good Clean Love feminine hygiene or aphrodisiac products are tested on animals. However, because personal lubricants are an FDA-regulated medical device, there are currently four animal tests required to become FDA-cleared.”
Outside of the U.S., there are vegan, cruelty-free lube options out there. As well as condoms, Hanx also makes vegan lube. Deluxe Gleitfreude Vegan Organic Lube is cruelty-free, as are Sliquid’s lubricants. Ann Summers also sells cruelty-free lube options, including JO Organic Lube.
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 example, Pact makes this Barely There Lace Thong with organic cotton. According to the brand, this fabric choice saves 3.9 gallons of water. (Cotton is also breathable, so it’s better for your nether regions too.) Brook There also offers an Organic Lingerie range, which is cut and sewn in the U.S. And in the UK, Gilda & Pearl is committed to making ethical lingerie, which features sustainable, biodegradable materials.
Gilda & Pearl’s founder, Diane Houston, spoke to Glamour about sustainability in the underwear sector. She said: “The attitudes towards the purchase of underwear have, in recent years, been molded by an industry that stresses affordability over quality. The ability to make clothes cheaply and quickly, regardless of the ethical or environmental ramifications, has been the driving force behind the fast fashion industry.”
But, she maintains things are slowly changing. “In light of recent attempts to highlight the environmental impact of a consumerist culture, such as climate protests, TV specials and relentless and commendable coverage from the media, shoppers are beginning to prioritise longevity over price,” she added.
For more sustainable underwear choices, find our guide here.
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, which, as is now well-known, takes hundreds of years to biodegrade.
But, there are eco-friendly options out there. The Blush Novelties’ Gaia range is the first biodegradable line of vibrators in the world. They’re made with BioFeel, a plant-based bioplastic, which is both recyclable and compostable. They’re available directly from the website, or from sex toy giant Babeland. The latter also stocks other more eco-friendly options, like the Solar Bullet Vibrator. While it is plastic, the source of power is a totally renewable source of energy: the sun. According to the company, eight hours of sunshine powers this vibrator for a full hour.
Leaf+ also offers four different eco-friendly vibrator options. Firstly, they’re rechargeable, so they’re made to last. They’re also made from silicone. Silicone is known for its durability and can be recycled. Silicone isn’t 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. You can find plenty of silicone options on Babeland’s website, as well as major UK sex toy retailers Ann Summers and Lovehoney.
If you already own non-vegan or vegan sex toys that’s plastic and you want to dispose of it, it 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. It notes: “Items sent to Lovehoney are taken to a designated collection facility where they are recycled and treated in an ecologically sound manner.”
Giving your sex life a sustainable upgrade is attainable, it just takes a little research and label-reading. Just look for the right materials, make your picks, and get on to getting it on — vegan-style.
LIVEKINDLY is here to help you navigate the growing marketplace of sustainable products that promote a kinder planet. All of our selections are curated by the editorial team. If you buy something we link to on our site, LIVEKINDLY may earn a commission.