The Sustainable Sex Talk
When it comes to our private parts, keeping them clear of harmful substances isn’t something we often think about, especially at that time of the month when you’re “flowing.” It’s so easy in today’s world to walk into your local drugstore and grab a supply of tampons that tout freshness and hours of protection, without second-guessing whether or not that choice is healthy for your body. In reality, what you’re clutching may be full of hidden pesticides, dyes, bleaches, and preservatives, which can be harmful to your vaginal health. So, here are some things to consider before going to grab that box of conventional Tampax.
Eco-Friendly Period Products
According to generally accepted statistics, on average, a woman throws away 250 to 300 pounds of tampons and sanitary pads in her lifetime. Close to 20 billion hygienic napkins, tampons, and applicators are dumped into North American landfills every year. When wrapped in plastic bags, feminine hygiene waste can take centuries to biodegrade. However, this colossal waste burden isn’t the only environmental impact of disposable feminine hygiene products. A life-cycle assessment of tampons conducted by the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm found that one of the most significant effects on global warming was caused by the processing of LDPE (low-density polyethylene, a thermoplastic made from the monomer ethylene) used in traditional tampon applicators as well as in the plastic back- strip of a sanitary napkin, which requires high amounts of fossil fuel-generated energy.
Further, many of the feminine products made today include dioxins and furans from the chemical bleaching process, both of which are known human carcinogens. Many products also contain bleach, pesticide residues, and chemical fragrances. There is nothing healthy or green about a toxic product that is first inserted into a woman’s vagina and later winds up in a landfill, contaminating soil.
We may not have the ability or desire to stop the natural flow of a woman’s cycle, but we can control the products we use to manage it. Fortunately, as more people become aware of the toxins used in manufacturing processes and the consequences they have on the environment, more products are coming to market that are organic and free of harmful chemical additives—and more women are choosing to go applicator-free if they use tampons. Next time you’re shopping for period products, make sure that they are free of dioxins, furans, and chemical chlorine bleaches.
Douches, washes and cleansers
How you keep your vagina feeling and smelling fresh, is something that most women don’t dwell on. However, it is a thought that lurks in the back of our mind before, during, and after moments of intimacy. One common misconception is that to accomplish this “freshness,” one has to use a harsh soap or cleanser. While feminine “daily intimate washes” sound like a good idea and feel good, too, the reality is that vaginas are naturally self-cleaning. It only takes a little water and mild soap to “freshen up”—even Dr. Bronner’s will do the trick. To maintain “freshness” from within, try adding cranberries or a tart cranberry juice to your diet, along with probiotics which help with pH levels, or plant fats like avocados for the well-being of your vaginal walls.
Condom and Lubricants
The last thing on your mind during an intimate moment with your partner is the chemicals in the lubricant you’re using or the spermicide added to a condom. But, as we all know, condoms are a good thing and when used properly, they prevent sexually transmitted diseases, as well unwanted pregnancy.
Lubricants are often necessary and can enhance sexual pleasure, but if you don’t know what you’re buying, you may be doing more harm than help. Lubricants can often be made with petroleum, propylene glycol, polyethylene glycol, glycerin fragrance, and parabens—all toxins we’ve discussed before that damage cell tissue, have been linked to endocrine disruption and cancer, and have no place being anywhere near your vagina.
The majority of conventionally made condoms contain nitrosamine, a known carcinogen. To hide the smell of latex, often manufacturers will add fragrances and flavors that are not particularly eco-friendly or good for either partner. According to The Environmental Working Group (EWG) “fragrances can have up to 14 chemicals, which can be linked to hormone disruption, as well as allergy reactions.” Anything with “added fragrance” can be a red flag, signaling it’s covering something up and, therefore, should be avoided. Spermicides are also added to condoms and are made with nonoxynol-9, a detergent that can disrupt layers of the cell membranes.
Like finding a good partner, you may have to look a little harder for the condom and lubricant brands that are organic, natural, and produced without harmful chemicals—but they do exist.
So, next time you reach out to buy that conventional tampon, pad, condom or lubricant, think twice, if you respect your body and keep the toxins out of this most sensitive and vulnerable area. Your body will be much happier and hopefully reward you with a longer, happier and healthy life.
Gay’s book Living with a Green Heart: How to Keep Your Body, Your Home, and the Planet Healthy in a Toxic World is now available and offers advice on leading a toxic-free life.
Author Bio Gay Browne is an environmental health advisor, writer, and founder of Greenopia, a comprehensive city guide of sustainable businesses to help consumers eat, shop, and live green. Her book "Living with a Green Heart: How to Keep Your Body, Your Home, and the Planet Healthy in a Toxic World" came out in April 2019 and offers advice on leading a toxic-free life.