Green sex toys? Yep

GREEN CITY You may be the greenest, most permacultured locavore with a heart made of hemp. You tend your community garden on dates, travel only by biodiesel bus, and make your Christmas gifts from recycled materials rather than contribute to our culture's overconsumption of resources. But chances are you haven't thought about how your sex habits are affecting the planet — not to mention your partner. And what better time to think about it than the week of Valentine's Day, the date when couples feel entitled to sex and singles are saddest about not having any? (Or is that the other way around?... But I digress.)

`Thing is, your favorite dildo may be releasing deadly toxins into the environment. Your discarded butt plug, so small and cute and seemingly innocent, may spend several centuries in a landfill before it degrades — if it ever does. Your vibrator could be the reason for someone else's unnaturally tiny penis. Really.

The issue with sex toys — one of the more recent industries to be examined through a green lens — is twofold: disposal and toxicity.

The first is the easier, less contentious, and somewhat more obvious issue. Since we're talking about a variety of objects often made of plastic, PVC, rubber, electronics, and other nonbiodegradable materials, it makes sense that concern has been raised about where sex toys end up and what happens to them when they get there. Just like water bottles and discarded train sets, sex toys made from these materials seem destined to last longer on the earth than any of us will — causing more pain in the long term than pleasure in the short term.

The second issue is whether sex toys are safe for humans, both those who use them and those who may be exposed to them through the environment. The concern here is phthalates, a variety of chemicals most commonly used to soften hard plastics but also found in cosmetics, food wraps, and a number of other ubiquitous consumer goods — and until recently, often used in plastic-based sex toys. There has been substantial research suggesting that phthalates — chemicals not naturally occurring in the human body — are present in 90 percent of Americans' bodies. Furthermore, scientists believe phthalates can have a detrimental effect on male reproductive development.

"Severe interference can involve incomplete development of the penis, undescended testicles, decreased testosterone levels," Tracey Woodruff, director of the Program on Reproductive Health and the Environment at the University of California at San Francisco, told the Guardian. "There can be lifelong consequences."

Are there counterarguments to all of these worries? Sure. For starters, there's always the issue of how green to go. Should you worry more about your rubber dildo — which you may keep for 10 years — than about your plastic shower curtain, which you'll throw in the landfill in three months? Or is this just the latest ecofriendly phase our culture (and media) is going through? And as for phthalates, there are lots of different kinds — and no one is exactly sure what they do or how they do it.

But if you're anything like Coyote Days, buyer for Good Vibrations, you'll figure safe is better than sorry. Days said the major sex toy retailer has decided to phase out products containing phthalates, just in case it turns out the chemicals really are as bad as scientists suspect. In particular, Days suggested replacement with silicone varieties, if you can afford them.

And if you're worried about how well a sex toy will biodegrade, you can always opt for a metal, wood, or glass variety.

In fact, if you're feeling really ambitious, you can check out the P Aqua from Love Piece, a dildo made from seaweed and water that, while solid at room temperature, can be boiled to oblivion for Earth-friendly disposal.

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