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Thursday, April 9, 2009

Greening Your Sex Life

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You probably recycle. Perhaps you've started to carpool, bike, walk or take the bus more frequently to cut down on gas use. Maybe you're switching out your chemical household cleaners for good-old baking soda and vinegar. But have you thought about ways to make your sex life more environmentally friendly? Yes, that's right: There's no area of your existence that can't be made a little greener! In honor of Earth Day, I offer the following suggestions.

First, if you buy sex toys, consider the materials that they're made of. Because most "adult" toys in the United States are sold as "novelties," the manufacturing process for these products is essentially unregulated. Chemical ingredients that are banned in children's toys and even pet toys because of their harmful properties are often found in sex toys. The most common toxic ingredient in sex toys are phthalates, which are chemicals that are added to hard plastic to make it softer and more pliable (hello, "feel real cyberskin!"). Although more research needs to be done, some reports indicate that phthalates may be linked to cancer and may also disrupt human reproductive systems. Not the kind of stuff you want anywhere near your genitals!

Your best bet to avoid phthalates is to purchase toys that are made of hard plastic, 100% medical-grade silicone or other nonporous materials such as steel, aluminum, glass or wood. Any toy that is described as a "jelly" material usually contains phthalates. You can also use a "sniff test" to ascertain whether a toy might be toxic: If a new toy gives off a plastic or chemical smell, it's likely that the toy contains phthalates or other harmful chemicals. Toys made out of safe materials will be odor-free.

If you want to take it one step further, look for toys that are made out of sustainable materials. Silicone is a durable, hygienic, nontoxic material, but it's not recyclable-that bright blue dildo will live in a landfill forever. Aluminum, glass and wood are not only recyclable, but can also be made of renewable resources. Plus, they often double as unique works of art!

Parabens are a second type of chemical that may be linked to cancer and may impact the human reproductive system. Again, research is not conclusive on this issue, but many people choose to avoid parabens, which are widely found in cosmetics and body-care products-including sexual lubricants. Look for lubes that are paraben-free and, while you're at it, check out some of the organic lubricants that have been introduced over the past year. Organic, paraben-free lubes are one of the top-selling products at the Tool Shed.

Another environmental concern with sex toys, as with all consumer products, is the waste they may generate. Toys that vibrate usually use batteries, which contain heavy metals that can contaminate the environment if not properly disposed of. You can choose to use rechargeable batteries in your toys, although we have found during in-store testing that rechargeable batteries are noticeably less powerful when used in sex toys. You can also choose to purchase rechargeable vibrators, which are actually more powerful, quieter and of higher quality than most battery-operated vibrators. Not only will you never buy batteries for your toy again, but rechargeable vibes tend to last longer than other toys, thereby reducing the waste that comes from throwing away a toy that has reached the end of its buzzy little life. Rechargeable vibrators cost a bit more upfront, but in the long run you will both save money and produce less waste.

If you're interested in learning more, I'm holding a free workshop called "Greening Your Sex Life" at the Tool Shed on Saturday, April 11, at 2 p.m. See some of the products I mention in this article in action and get a chance to ask questions, plus get 10% off any purchases made after the class (which can be a nice chunk of change if you're thinking about buying a rechargeable vibe!).

Want Laura to answer your questions in SEXpress? Send them tolaura@shepex.com. Not all questions received will be answered in the column, and Laura cannot provide personal answers to questions that do not appear here. Questions sent to this address may be reproduced in this column, both in print and online, and may be edited for clarity and content.

Laura Anne Stuart has a master's degree in public health and has worked as a sexuality educator for more than a decade. She owns theTool Shed, an erotic boutique on Milwaukee's East Side.