From STIs to unwanted children, protect ourselves we must. For the sustainability-inclined, natural birth control can be a complex maze to navigate. Eco-conscious people aren’t simply thinking about how an unwanted child might affect their own lives – they’re considering the broader implications of overpopulation, planetary wellness, and health. Since I know you’d rather skip the research and just get to getting busy, I’m going to break it all down for you.
Spring is in the air in the Northern Hemisphere: the ritual shedding of clothing has already begun. I’m not just talking about bikini-season here. Getting naked is good for you – experts say that sex has measurable health benefits, and hell, it definitely beats spin class. But for all its pleasure-inducing and blood-pressure-reducing side effects, copulation has definite consequences.
Contraception is a Human Right
For the last few years we’ve been dealing with a very real War on Women and a massive, retrograde assault on reproductive rights – in states all over the U.S., the pendulum has already begun to swing back to the 1950s. This is, in part, why it’s such an important moment for us to carefully assess the reproductive options we still have – and we must fight to keep them all. No matter what path to protecting yourself you end up choosing, remember that access to contraception is a human right.
Here is where it gets complicated – take the birth control pill. It revolutionized the lives of millions of women when it first became available in 1960, and for that, it’s worth celebrating. But if you care about the health of your body and the planet, you’ll want to closely examine what is actually in hormonal birth control, and what it does to the ecosystem of your body. It seems like hormonal contraception is a no-brainer for women in monogamous, heterosexual relationships. Your biggest concern is avoiding pregnancy, and you don’t want to have to think about barrier methods. Right? Perhaps not.
Hormonal contraceptives prevent pregnancy by tricking a woman’s body into a kind of chemical menopause. That, in itself, has consequences – it’s pretty clear that nature designed our bodies to menstruate for a reason. Aside from the laundry list of short-term dangers included on the package insert provided by Big Pharma (migraines, water retention, high blood pressure, breast swelling, spotting) use of the pill is linked with risk for strokes, breast and cervical cancer, and long-term infertility. Not to mention anecdotal evidence that it ironically lowers your sex drive – what is the point of birth control that makes you less libidinous? If that’s not enough for you, consider what hormonal contraceptives may be doing to the environment.
The endocrine-disrupting-chemicals (EDCs) in hormonal contraceptives leach into our water systems in a variety of ways. Women excrete them in their urine and unused packs end up in landfills. Synthetic estrogen, when dumped into the ecosystem, has similar properties to pesticides – it feminizes aquatic animals. Large-scale UK studies have shown that even low levels of estrogen in waterways caused reduced fertility in male fish. While pesticides from industrial agriculture remain the greatest threat to the environment, the very personal choice of birth control matters – both to your body and to the planet.
Although I believe that condoms are a terrific birth control method for people with multiple partners (those that don’t need to worry about STIs) unless you’re buying the right brand, you may be loading up landfills with waste that won’t biodegrade. Not to mention, many condom manufacturers use irritating, toxic lubricant.
In part two of this series, we’ll look at safer, healthier ways to make sure that your natural birth control choices are as green as your makeup routine.
Stefanie Iris Weiss is the author of Eco-Sex: Go Green Between the Sheets and Make Your Love Life Sustainable (Ten Speed Press/Crown Publishing, 2010) and eight other books. Stefanie keeps her carbon footprint small in New York City, where she writes about sustainability, sexuality, reproductive rights, dating and relationships, politics, fashion, beauty, and more for many publications. Learn more at ecosex.net and follow her on Twitter: @ecosexuality.