The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish
February 13, 2008

Plastic-free sex, part 2: "Pedro offers you his protection"

Couldn’t resist the above. In our house, we quote Napoleon Dynamite whenever possible. Clearly, this post has nothing to do with Pedro, but everything to do with protected sex. And despite the fun title, this post is going to be more serious than yesterday’s, so once again, consider yourself warned.

Looking over yesterday’s post on using olive oil for lube, I realized it was written from a totally married hetero-centric point of view. Which makes sense, considering this is the blog of a married woman in a monogamous het relationship. I don’t worry about whether or not using olive oil will break a condom because, like my kitties, I’ve been fixed. But you can believe that if I were the parent of a sexually active teenager, I’d be harping on them night and day to use a condom every single time and would make sure they had access to as much water-based condom-friendly lube as they wanted. (Oh, what an annoying, creepy parent I’d be. You readers with young kids, just think what you have to look forward to!)

So, let’s talk about condoms. They’re made of latex, polyurethane plastic, or natural animal skin. According to Treehugger, the “jury is still out as to whether latex condoms are biodegradable and what effects additives and lubricants might have on biodegradability.” Polyurethane condoms are good for people allergic to latex but are not biodegradable at all. And natural animal skin condoms protect from pregnancy but not disease. It’s important to discard condoms, latex or plastic, in the garbage rather than flushing them down the toilet and adding them to our already plastic-filled waterways. And all three kinds come packaged in plastic wrappers that are another source of plastic waste. BUT considering the possible alternatives, disease or unwanted preganancy, I would consider condom plastic in the same category as my plastic eyedrop containers or plastic prescription bottles. Why?

Because condoms save lifes. No other form of birth control besides latex or polyurethane condoms protects us from life-threatening diseases like HIV and possibly HPV. And if you think you’re sparing the environment by not using disposable condoms to prevent disease (an argument I used to hear in my young activist days), compare the small amount of spermicide and plastic in a few condoms to the toxic drug cocktail you’d be subjected to if you contracted HIV, and I think you’ll see which has the greater environmental impact. (And let’s take a second to be grateful for those toxic cocktails that are keeping so many people alive.)

Okay, second over. So, what if you’re in an adult long-term monogamous relationship and have decided that your risk of contracting disease is small but you’re also heterosexual so you need to prevent pregnancy? Burbanmom, in the same post I linked to yesterday, describes how she chose the most eco-friendly birth control method for her. And Treehugger gives a quick comparison of the environmental impact of other alternatives. What does Fake Plastic Fish say?

Choose the most reliable method of birth control that you will actually stick with, and use it EVERY TIME.

This post isn’t really about plastic-free sex after all because to me, using any reliable method of birth control every time (unless, of course, you’re trying to get pregnant) is one of the most pro-environmental things any of us breeders can do. Even if our chosen birth control method involves a bit of plastic or hormone, the environmental impact is going to be much lower than bringing another human being into the world who will, over a lifetime, consume a lot of energy and generate a lot of waste.

Consider these facts from Population Connection:

    • Our world population has grown more since 1950 than it has in the previous four million years. With these additional people come additional demands on our earth: eighty percent of the original rain forests have been cleared or degraded; one-third to one half of the Earth’s land surface has been transformed.


  • We lose one or more entire species of animal or plant life every 20 minutes— some 27,000 species a year. This rate and scale of extinction has not occurred in 65 million years.



  • Americans are only 5% of the world’s population, yet we consume 25% of the world’s resources. Resulting social and environmental problems reverberate around the world.


And from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services:


  • During 2005, an estimated 899,000 children in the 50 States, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico were determined by Child Protective Services to be victims of abuse or neglect.


And from Unicef:

  • There are an estimated 133 million children who are orphans (children aged 0–17 who have lost one or both parents) world wide.

Numbers and statistics. But the lives they represent are real. Condoms are disposable. Children should not be. Do I sound like a public service message?

Sorry. I’m not here to give an opinion about how many children each person should bring into this world. And I’m not here to be self-righteous about Michael’s and my decision not to have any children. It would be easy, after the fact, to claim that our choice was a sacrifice we made for the environment, but that would be a lie. Our reasons were as personal as those of anyone else deciding whether or not to pass along their genes. And finally, I’m not here to tell anyone what they should or shouldn’t do in the case of an unplanned pregnancy.

But imagine a world in which we adults are truly mindful of the consequences of our actions and take measures to be responsible each time reproduction is a possibility. Imagine a world in which nearly every child is planned, cared for, and loved. Yes, accidents happen occasionally. No birth control method is 100% effective except for abstinence and certain medical procedures. And sometimes an unplanned child can end up being the great joy of his/her parents’ lives. But in order to be able to take care of each other and the planet, I believe we need to treat the creation of our family with thought and care for its impact on the environment and our society as a whole.

So anyway, tomorrow is Valentine’s Day. Let’s be safe, smart, and responsible in whatever way we choose to celebrate. Sex talk over. Join me tomorrow for my latest recipe. I promise, it’ll be G-rated.

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17 Comments on "Plastic-free sex, part 2: "Pedro offers you his protection""

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3 years 1 month ago

Sir Richard’s condoms are latex  but without all the chemicals and supposedly biodegradable as well as vegan. Per FDA regulations they still have individual and not biodegradable wrappers though. Still it’s about 50% less I suppose.

Mary K
6 years 7 months ago

There is a way to prevent pregnancy that is JUST as effective as all artificial birth control—- natural family planning. Granted, this is really only a good option for a monogamous hetero couple… but I can attest that it works. NFP usually gets a bad rap as being a crazy Catholic thing (I’m Catholic, and possibly also crazy, but that’s another topic ;) ), but it is the most natural means of birth control possible! Although for some methods you do need a special thermometer, but you could use the old fashioned kind if you want. … Read more »

7 years 3 months ago

I found you via some google searches on population growth. I appreciate these stats you’ve mentioned so much! I see over-population as a huge environmental issue and think you’ve “let the numbers do the talking” rather than trying to preach to people about family size. We opted to pursue adoption in order to become parents, and you’ve listed a bunch of our reasons why!

BTW–I grew up just a few miles from where you live from what I’ve been reading on this blog thus far!

7 years 8 months ago

beth, i followed your link here from the good human. i’m so glad there is SOMEONE out there (judging from the comments, it seems like quite a few people) feels the way i do! it’s such a relief!!!

birth control is one of the most useful and amazing modern inventions and one of the reasons i could never fully go off to live a “natural” lifestyle on an amish settlement somewhere…nor could i choose birth control based on anything other than what WORKS.


terrible person
7 years 9 months ago

It’s interesting that you’re talking about people bringing too many children into the world. There’s a parallel to plastic. It’s very easy to produce children, hard to take care of them. But once they are created (whenever one believes that is), you have to take care of them. So, unless you really plan to do that, don’t have them in the first place! But I feel the same way about plastic bags or other packages now. Once I get one, I have to use it until it’s worn out, and dispose of it properly. It’s a responsibility. So, I should… Read more »

Fake Plastic Fish
7 years 9 months ago

I’m so happy for all the comments about adoption. I was going to mention it in my post and then thought I’d better stick to a narrower topic. Also, I don’t know anything about adoption myself, except for adopting bad rascally kitties that destroy mommy’s knitting and poop on the floor. (What does THAT mean?)

But my point in mentioning how many foster children and orphans there are in the world was to say that we have so many kids already who need loving homes. Why keep making more? But then again, it’s not for me… Read more »

terrible person
7 years 9 months ago

Just to bring everything full circle: there’s a brand of oil for bicycles called Pedro’s Synlube — when I saw the name “Pedro” in the title for a second I thought, wait, she’s not advocating using THAT, is she?

7 years 9 months ago

Birth control good but if our mom had uzed we not be here to mess up ur yarn ball … OK maybe not such good exampl.

Overpopulation of katz & dogz 2…not enough foster homes … we glad & lucky u & big clumzy guy adopt us and give us yarn ball 2 play w/! thxby.

7 years 9 months ago

That’s probably the best post you’ve ever done. GOSH!

7 years 9 months ago

Like Cindy I have four kids, one biological and three adopted from foster care in NYC. In fact our family looks a lot like yours, Cindy! I agree that it is a perfect balance of a desire to have a large family and helping the planet (and other beings on it) a bit.

I was inspired to adopt in the mid 90’s after reading a WHO recommendation that essentially stated anyone wanting a large family should consider adopting.

Many of those children in foster care that you mentioned in your post are legally free for adoption. Adoption… Read more »

7 years 9 months ago

I have to say, thank you. I’ve been on the pill for eight years now, and am getting mighty tired of the side effects, of which one horrendous one is migraines. I’ve just made an appointment to get an IUD fitted, but after having read so many blogs and websites n’ such, have been feeling guilty about the possible synthetic hormones, plastic, etc. My husband and I don’t want children, but neither of us really wants surgery, either.

By reminding me that I am getting an IUD so that I can be as sure as possible… Read more »

Crafty Green Poet
7 years 9 months ago

Population is the great untalked about issue so thanks for this post. I like Jennifer’s point about choosing to influence children not needing to involve having biological children of your own. (I’ve been a teacher and work with children’s and youth charities, but have no children of my own and never will).

7 years 9 months ago

In terms of birth control, it is much easier being a married woman with 2 kids already – got my husband to get the snip snip :) But he uses more plastic stuff than I would like, so maybe that’s a wash. Sigh.

7 years 9 months ago

This note is off topic, or referring to an older topic, but as a fellow knitter, I wanted to let you know about a yarn source called Knitpicks that sent me yarn (it’s a mail order place) that was completely free of plastic. The yarn has paper lables, the cardboard box was recyclable, brown paper filled out the extra space in the box, and old fashioned sticky paper sealed the box shut. Now, the carbon footprint of mailorder yarn v. lys yarn is debatable, but this pruchase seemed plastic free to me. Also, ebay usually has… Read more »

7 years 9 months ago

Thanks for writing this. As a non-married young woman, I admit I read your post yesterday and started feeling (very slightly) guilty about the latex condoms that I’m 100% not willing to give up, because, yeah. But there are a million other places I could and should cut plastic. This just ain’t one of them.

7 years 9 months ago

Great post. I have 4 kids – 1 bio (a surprise – perhaps i needed your post 9 years ago!) and 3 adopted. I always wanted a large family and for me this was a perfect balance. There are lots of kids in the foster system that need parents. Thanks for your blog. Axelle got me hooked. I made my own compost bin last week and am having the gardener dig up some space for my vege garden. I certainly have a long way to go with the plastic, but will never look… Read more »

7 years 9 months ago

So true!
On another note, I believe you can use oil (aka olive oil) with polyurethane condoms. But… for many (especially young), just getting them to USE condoms at all is a big step.

My best friend in high school’s mother stored condoms EVERYWHERE in the house. Along with individual packets of lube. And she made sure that my friend KNEW they were uncounted. Needless to say, my friend didn’t end up having sex until college… with a condom (and Depo, just to make sure). I think your parenting strategy would work great. I fully intend… Read more »