Eco Etiquette: Is There A Green Choice For Birth Control?

When considering the eco impact of birth control, it's important to remember this: Nearly any effective method is better than none at all.
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Planning a romantic Valentine's Day getaway and am wondering about ahem, prophylactics. Is there a green choice for birth control?


Hoping for some amorous action this February 14? You're not alone: Fifty-six percent of women and 50 percent of men expect sex on Valentine's Day. That means ostensibly, they'll be a whole lot of lovin' for not just you, but the majority of HuffPost Green readers. (And a whole lot of little cupids running around in the not-so-distant future if you're not careful.)

So I applaud your contraceptive efforts. Because when considering the eco impact of birth control, it's important to remember this: Nearly any effective method is better than none at all. You could don a full-body PVC condom, Naked Gun style, and toss it on a trash pile -- as eco-sins go, that would still pale in comparison to adding another human life to our already exploding world population.

Seven billion people on the planet this year. Nine billion projected by 2045. An ever-dwindling supply of natural resources. Kind of makes the question of latex or lambskin seem inconsequential, doesn't it?

Except that there are legitimate environmental concerns over a number of contraceptives, especially ones that contain hormones. Prescription drug pollution is becoming a pressing problem, with sex hormones being detected in the drinking water of nearly 41 million Americans. Synthetic estrogens (like those in the Pill) in wastewater have already been shown to feminize male fish; our own hormonal systems may now also be vulnerable.

For non-hormonal contraceptive methods, there's the issue of waste. Even something as small as a condom can become a Magnum-size problem when you consider that 437 million of them are sold in the US each year. While latex is a natural material, the additives in most latex condoms compromise their biodegradability. (You can forget about the polyurethane variety -- those will be around for the next 500 years.) The non-recyclable wrappers, too, are enough to create their own mountain of waste.

So it makes sense, then, that if you're lucky enough to have access to reliable contraception (and 200 million women worldwide don't), you may as well choose the greenest option, right?

Of course, how far you're willing to venture into the world of eco-contraception depends on how committed of a relationship you're in. Many of the more "natural" methods of birth control offer little-to-no protection from sexually transmitted diseases. (Certainly no one wants to contract syphilis in the name of sustainability.)

But don't fret! You can still learn how to get down green before your Valentine's Day vacation. Here's a quick crash course in eco-contraception:

Fair-trade condoms. Made of 100 percent natural latex harvested from sustainably managed rubber plantations, fair-trade condoms like French Letter are also vegan, since they don't contain the dairy product casein (similar: Glyde and Sir Richard's). If a premium pack of condoms seems a bit pricey, consider this: It's cheaper than sending a kid to college.

Lambskin condoms. Upside: Condoms made from natural lambskin are biodegradable. Downside: They're pretty much out of the question for vegetarians. They also should be off-limits for everyone but monogamous couples, since they're not an effective method for preventing STDs.

Barrier methods. Both the diaphragm and cervical cap are reusable, which makes them a good contraceptive candidate where waste is concerned. But with a lower effectiveness rate, a surprise carbon emitter may put a wrench in your green plans.

Copper IUD. The IUD is the gold (or copper) standard for eco-conscious contraception: more than 99 percent effective, hormone-free, and long-lasting (up to 10 years). It may not, however, be an option for your V-Day vacation plans, since insertion requires a doctor's visit.

Fertility Awareness Method. Not to be confused with the long-debunked rhythm method, FAM can be a highly effective (around 90 percent) way to prevent pregnancy sans drugs and devices, provided you're a) a woman and b) disciplined enough to diligently track your cycle each month.

Sterilization. Nothing says "I love you" like a voluntary vasectomy or tubal ligation: Very green, but for the most part, very permanent. (A tubal ligation reversal is possible in some cases.)

Want to score some bonus points? Don't forget the paraben-free lube and solar-powered sex toys. (Hope you're not reading this, mom.) Happy Valentine's Day, everyone!

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