In part one of this series on natural birth control, we explored the toxic perils of the birth control pill. For all the ways that it has liberated women and given birth (no pun intended) to the sexual revolution that began more than forty years ago, it turns out that it’s pretty damn bad for our bodies.
With the recent news that Yasmin (a popular brand of birth control pills for young women) killed 23 women in Canada, it’s even more urgent that we know how to properly protect ourselves — that is, without risk of illness or death.
Birth Control for Monogamists (Serial or Otherwise)
If you’re in a long-term partnership and both of you have been tested for STIs, it’s nice not to have to deal with condoms or other barrier methods, isn’t it? For many years, a multitude of women have automatically opted for the pill after committing to a single sexual partner. Luckily, there are other natural birth control options out there for you monogamous types (even green juice swilling, yoga-practicing, socially conscious ones). If you’ve crossed the threshold into coupledom but aren’t ready for a baby now (or maybe ever) you’re covered.
If you’re opting out of hormonal birth control, luckily there’s a relatively safe, effective, and less wasteful option – the IUD, or intrauterine-device. You may have heard some very scary stories about the IUD. That’s because in the late seventies there was defective, dangerous brand called the Daklon Shield – which is luckily long off the market. Today’s IUD is a whole different ballgame.
Although you’ll need a visit to your gynecologist to get your IUD inserted, it lasts for a very sustainable twelve years, and is often covered by health insurance. The non-hormonal version employs a small amount of plastic and copper wire, which interferes with sperm transport. It doesn’t interfere with future fertility and has few side effects. Note that insertion can be a bit painful and some experience PID after insertion. The IUD can be ideal if you have only one sexual partner and you’re both disease free, but it’s not for everyone, so have a conversation with your doctor about whether it works for you.
The Fertility Awareness Method (It’s NOT the rhythm method)
Although not nearly as foolproof as the IUD, the Fertility Awareness Method (or Natural Family Planning) is the right choice for some women – usually those for whom getting pregnant would not be the worst disaster in the world. If there is any question about whether you are ready for a baby now, stick with the IUD or a barrier method. But for the green-inclined and baby-friendly, fertility awareness is indeed the most non-invasive, holistic, and truly natural way to prevent pregnancy. With NFP, you learn how to recognize the signals of ovulation – by observing BBT (basal body temperature), cervical mucus, and cervical position.
The amazing Red Tent Sisters, two holistically-inclined sex educators from Canada, introduced me to the Justisse Method of fertility awareness, which I now believe is the best way for women to learn how to manage pregnancy prevention without the aid of devices or chemicals.
Permanent Birth Control
Finally, there’s the permanent solution – getting the snip. If you’re in the ranks of the growing child-free movement, or are in a long-term relationship in which the threat of STIs isn’t an issue, there is vasectomy (for men) and transabdominal sterilization (tubal ligation) or getting your tubes tied, for women. A one-time operation, it rarely causes complications and can be a great solution if you know you don’t want puppies – or if you’ve already created your brood.
Got Lovers? Casual Sex and the Single Girl
You’re having non-monogamous sex (and you like it like that). Nobody’s judging you, but your particular category of birth control is more complicated than it is for your friends in long-term, monogamous relationships. That’s because you run the pesky risk of STIs (sexually transmitted infections). Pregnancy is something you clearly want to avoid, but since you’re not about to get tested with every new partner you take home, you, darling, require a barrier method.
In the universe of condoms, there are endless choices, and we’re not talking ribbed or flavored – some are definitely more sustainable than others.
Green gals and boys should avoid polyurethane. As an eco-conscious person, this is already on your list of no-nos because it’s derived from petroleum, and you don’t want to cause any more drilling (except the fun kind!) or add any more carbon to the atmosphere. You’re heating things up enough as it is. Polyurethane condoms are also thick, stiff, uncomfortable, and not biodegradable.
The next variety of condom you’ll want to leave on the shelf is lambskin. Firstly, because you’re already conscious (possibly vegan or vegetarian) and not interested contributing to the slaughter of sweet little lambs, or creating any additional agricultural runoff. And secondly, because lambskin condoms DO NOT protect you from STIs.
Now that you know what to avoid, let’s get down to the business of your pre-coital to-do list. If you don’t have a latex allergy (more on that in a bit) you’ll want to go with a vegan, latex condom. (Surprising fact: most condoms on the market contain casein, a milk-derivative.) Latex is all kinds of green — the tree grows quickly and sustainably, often in Malaysia (so no, it’s not locally sourced).
Latex itself is a biodegradable material, but condoms made from it require stabilizers, hardening agents and preservatives that unfortunately render them less likely to be used as compost any time soon. Do remember this: always wrap used condoms in a recycled tissue and put them in the garbage. NEVER flush them. In our waterways, condoms are a serious menace to aquatic life, and latex will never decompose in water.
My go-to condom brand is Sir Richard’s Condom Company. Since 2010, Sir Richard’s, based in Colorado, has produced the most stylish, sustainable condoms on the market. I like to call them the Tom’s Shoes of contraception — for every condom bought in the U.S., they donate one to a developing country. They have a strong relationship to Partners in Health in Haiti and donated thousands of condoms to them earlier in the spring of 2012. This young, conscious company is sex-positive, progressive and has the most brilliant, creative condom marketing I’ve ever seen. Their sexy VW condom van, Lucy, tools around the country covered in green and black plaid, spreading the gospel of condom-usage. Their motto: “Doing good never felt better.” Because they use only paraben- and glycerine-free lube, they won’t irritate you or your partner. Another bonus: they’re available at Whole Foods, so pick up a few packs next time you stop in for some hemp milk.
Note: for all you condom-haters out there, I assure you that after test-driving Sir Richard’s Ultra Thin, you will not be able to use the “I can’t feel anything” excuse. They truly are ultra-thin.
If you have a latex allergy, the best current condom alternative seems to be polyisoprene. Since 2008, Lifestyle has been manufacturing condoms made from this non-latex technology under the SKYN brand. I’ve never been able to get the company to reveal what’s actually in these condoms, which is a bit concerning. The positive is that although it’s a synthetic, chemical compound, it is not derived from oil.
And if you’re using lube, just remember – no oil-based lubricant should ever be used with a latex condom.
Now go forth and have fun (with your trusty birth control, you will not be multiplying, at least for now).
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.
Image: Dustin J McClure