Green Sex

Green sex is the concept of sex ‘au natural,’ as God – or nature – intended.  Sex without props, potions or procedures.  One man, one woman, no equipment necessary.  It’s cost effective, has a carbon footprint of essentially zero, and is a basic proven predictor of marital longevity.  In laymen terms: it’s free, cheap and easy.

Green sex is also the idea that contraceptive use – or the deliberate destruction or suppression of the reproductive functions   is in fact seriously deleterious to the environment and may indeed be harmful to the human person - physically, psychologically and relationally.

So why aren’t we hearing more about it?  It seems like the green thing to do – in light of mounting evidence of the effects of chemical contraception on the natural environment, would be to cease and desist all chemical contraceptive use at once.  Or else.  But… that doesn’t seem to be on anybody’s political agenda these days.

Because the idea of "green sex," for all it's shock value and buzz-worthy appeal, isn't exactly catching on like wildfire.  Cosmo hasn't run any features exposing the rampant estrogenic pollution of our streams and waterways resultant from the disposal of human sewage laden with prolific amounts of artificial hormones.  

The White House hasn't introduced any sweeping initiatives to enact protective measures for transgendered trout whose sexuality has been swayed by human interference...

But the consequences of contraceptive use on the environment - both externally, in nature, and internally, within the human body - are staggering.

First, a little background on who is “using:” From a report by the Guttmacher Institute (the research arm of Planned Parenthood), issued in January of 2008, we have the following statistics:

• 62 million U.S. women are in their childbearing years (or fall in the age range of 15–44)
• Of these 62 million women, 43 million, or 7 in 10, are sexually active and do not want to become pregnant, but could become pregnant if they or their partners fail to use a contraceptive method.
• Millions of these women are teenagers.  Of the 3.1 million teenage women who use contraceptives, 53% of them—more than 1.5 million teens—rely on the pill.
• The typical U.S. woman wants only 2 children. To achieve this goal, she must faithfully use contraceptives for roughly 3 decades, beginning in her teen years and continuing well into her forties.

Good to know.  Let’s build upon this information with some facts from the front line, taken from
the drug info packet of Ortho Tricyclen – the number one prescribed oral contraceptive in the United States:

"Taking the Pill at a younger age may increase your risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer. Particularly if taken for five consecutive years prior to a woman's first pregnancy"

Let's break that down.  According to the drug manufacturer’s own warning label,
Taking the Pill:

1. “may increase your risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer"      
Which, could also be loosely translated to “might give you cancer."  Sounds a little more ominous that way, no?

Taking the Pill:

2. " a younger age."  
Let’s examine this one.  The average age of onset for hormonal contraceptive use in the U.S. is between 15 and 22 years of age.  
Let's say a 17 year-old, high school junior obtains a prescription from her general care practitioner and remains on the Pill for the remainder of high school and then continues through college and grad school.  Assuming she finishes her MA at age 25.   She's now been on the Pill for 7 years... Hmmmm....

Taking the Pill:

3. "prior to a woman's first pregnancy"  
Let's presume the young lady in our above example marries around age 28 (early average, by today’s standards) and waits 12-14 months to conceive baby number one (again, pretty quick by today's standards.) She has now been on the Pill for more than a dozen years prior to her first pregnancy...

So, transgendered trout aside, it would seem that there are plenty of humane reasons to think before popping those little pink Pills - humane in the fullest sense of the word.
But seriously, does the phrase "Green Sex" do a number on your psyche?  Make your stomach feel a little... off?

Mine too.

But I haven't thought of a more fitting name for it yet, so "green sex" it is.

Some food for thought:

Why aren't we hearing more buzz about "greening” our sex lives?  Why hasn't there been public outcry over the massive amounts of environmental pollution produced by hormonal contraceptive use?  And perhaps most disturbing of all, why aren't women up in arms about the ramifications that even short-term contraceptive use has on their health?
Because going green - in the bedroom - is not the most convenient option.  Because we don't really care what we're doing to our bodies, as long as our bodies are performing exactly as we tell them to.

It’s funny though, because for a society so infatuated with the practice of lessening consumerist tendencies, it's awfully fishy that no body's pointed a finger at Merck or Wyeth or one of the pharmaceutical companies’ other big players, asking the tough questions about energy output and the environmental ramifications of pumping billions of gallons of estrogen-enhanced waste through our waterways – not to mention through our bloodstreams. 

It sure gets you thinking...

Maybe – just maybe – contraception is bad for the environment.  Maybe it’s bad for our own internal environments, too.  Maybe, in spite of everything we’ve been told about “responsible” family planning and good stewardship, we’re actually doing more harm than good in our misguided attempts to outwit our own biology.

Need proof?  We could try calculating the carbon footprint produced by the laboratory production, packaging, marketing, shipping, stocking and consumption of Ortho-Tricyclen in the United States alone, and you have an energy output far outpacing that of other more popularly-critiqued industries that have come under recent heavy media fire for failing to properly steward their resources and reduce their footprint.

In an era where incredible emphasis is placed upon social-responsibility, and where those whose endanger the natural world are condemned unanimously… why hasn’t anyone taken up the standard against the toxic wastefulness of artificial – and specifically chemical – contraception? 

Let’s back up and begin with the basics; those three fundamental claims made in favor of contraceptive use, the “Big Three” for Big Pharma.

They’ve been ingrained into the minds of women (and men) over the course of years of careful public health campaigns in public schools and marketing efforts in medical offices and pharmacies, and they are as follows: 

1.      Contraception is convenient
2.      Contraception is responsible
3.      Contraception is liberating 

Myth # 1: Contraception is convenient:

Truth: Contraception as a convenient means of manipulating or “controlling” one’s biology has perhaps become the single biggest selling point for the product.  In a culture which praises immediacy and action, there is nothing more appealing to the consumer than the “quick fix.”

We see it in the marketing of diet pills and supplements, in the advertisements for internet service providers, and in the never-ending quest for quicker service at the pump or in the drive through.  We are a people obsessed by productivity – or the promise of it – and who will sacrifice almost anything to shave a few minutes off our times.  

Let’s examine the promise of convenience as it relates to the proper use of hormonal contraceptives:
1.      You must take your Pill at the same time, every day.  If you miss a dose, its efficacy is dramatically lowered. 

Check out Planned Parenthood’s instructions for missed doses: (read this fast for best effect)
    • If you miss 1 pill, take it as soon as you remember.
    • Take your regular pill at the usual time, even if it means taking 2 pills in one day. 
    • Continue taking your pills, but use another effective method of birth control (in addition to your pill) for 10 days, even if you begin a new pill pack or have your period.
    • If you miss 2 pills, take two pills at once, then 2 pills the next day.
    • Continue taking your pills, but use another method of birth control for 10 days.
    • If you miss 2 or more pills at the start of a new pack of pills and have had sex, you are at risk for pregnancy. 
o    Take your pill at the same time every day. This keeps hormone level steady and prevents ovulation.
o    If you ever vomit within two hours after taking your pill, take another pill
o    If you take your pill late, you may have spotting (bleeding). The best time to take the pill is after a meal.

Sounds rather complicated.  But what if you are taking your dose on time?  Read on:

·         Begin your first pack of pills by taking the first pill on the first Sunday after your next menstrual period starts.
·         You will always start each new pack of pills on a Sunday.
·         If you are using a 28-day pack, begin a new pack immediately. Skip no days between packages. Your period will come sometime during the last 7 days. 
·         If you are using a 21-day pack, you will take no pills for 7 days and then start your new pack.

So by convenient, I suppose the manufacturers mean mind-numbingly complex.  If Tylenol had such stringent dosing practices, I wonder whether it’d be the number one painkiller on the market.

Myth # 2: Contraception is responsible:

Facts: Billions of dollars are spent on the research, development, production, advertisement, packaging and distribution of contraceptives - from pill packs to condoms, and everything in between.

Our waterways are becoming saturated with astronomical levels of estrogen, decimating animal populations in the surrounding ecosystems.  Case in point: Boulder Creek – (yeah, this town gets a lot of weird press) is now home to a bizarre, mutated kind of “transgendered trout.”

“They [EPA-funded scientists at the University of Colorado] studied the fish and decided the main culprits were estrogens and other steroid hormones from birth control pills and patches, excreted in urine into the city’s sewage system and then into the creek.  Randomly netting 123 trout and other fish downstream from the city’s sewer plant, they found that 101 were female, 12 were male, and 10 were strange “intersex” fish with male and female features." National Catholic Register, July 2007

These are not the chemicals leaking downstream from a steel mill or a pharmaceutical factory, which would surely have local activists up in arms. These are chemicals being excreted in human waste; read: they are coming out of our bodies and causing genetic alteration - mutation in some cases- in local wildlife. 

Curt Cunningham, water quality issues chairman for the Rocky Mountain Chapter of Sierra Club International, worked tirelessly last year on a ballot measure that would force the City of Boulder to remove fluoride from drinking water, because some believe it has negative effects on health and the environment that outweigh its benefits.

Cunningham said he would never consider asking women to curtail use of birth control pills and patches — despite what effect these synthetics have on rivers, streams and drinking water:

“I suspect people would not take kindly to that,” Cunningham said. “For many people it’s an economic necessity. It’s also a personal freedom issue.”

And all the while, we're being told in firm, sensible tones: do your part. We only have one earth. Switch to high efficiency lightbulbs...

But would anyone consider making the switch from synthetic hormonal contraceptives to something a little, well, greener?  Something with zero impact on the environment and a significantly positive effect on the sociological state of affairs?  Has anyone stopped to consider the very real ramifications of literally millions of couples eschewing sex "au natural" in favor of a more controlled and convenient conjugal collaboration? 

So Boulder, Colorado is turning a blind eye to one to the mutation of one of their beloved indigenous animal species for the sake of … convenience?  A strange phenomenon for a city known to be infatuated with all things animalia... but then, stranger things have happened in Boulder.

Myth # 3: Contraception is liberating

Truth: Contraception is anything but freeing.  Need we revisit the tedious litany of instructions for proper use of the Pill? 
The truth is, contraceptives have made women less free, not more.  Because for every claim of convenience –
·         “No risk of pregnancy!”
·         “Casual, consequence-free sex!”
·         “Guilt-less hook-ups!”

There is an equal and opposing consequence – take the following three examples:

1.      Use of the Pill increases the risk for sexually transmitted infections based upon increased sexual activity:

“The morning-after pill is also having a damaging social effect by lulling young women into a false sense of security, encouraging a more casual attitude to sex, and exposing them to increased risk of sexually transmitted infections.” London Daily Mail, May 2009

2.      Use of the Pill encourages promiscuity: take the following statement from one of the inventors of the birth control pill, Dr. Robert Kistner of Harvard:

“For years, I thought the pill would not lead to promiscuity, would not cultivate dangerous sexual behavior… but I’ve changed my mind.  I think it probably has.”

Nobel-prize winning economist and professor at the University of California at Berkley, George Akerlof, agrees.  He found that:

“Instead of freeing women, birth control obligated them to have sex before marriage in order to compete in the “relationship market.”

And finally: 

3.      Use of the Pill gives women – especially younger women – a false sense of security and safety.  According to the Guttmacher Institute in a 1996 study:

“A teenage girl who has unprotected sex just one time has a 1% risk of contracting HIV, a 30% risk of contracting genital herpes, and a 50% chance of contracting gonorrhea.”

What it's really about, this acceptance of contraception as a necessary and indeed essential component of modern life is convenience at any cost.  At all cost.  For some, the cost will be greater.   
Take the following story from the Australian News Service published April, 2009:

“Tanya Hayes, a student from Croydon in Melbourne, Australia, died Monday, hours after collapsing in her car.

Hayes had been taking Yasmin, an oral contraceptive recommended for patients using the acne medication Accutane, for about four months.

Hayes had ignored symptoms of a pulmonary embolism for about two weeks, including "breathlessness" and "a nasty, hard cough," according to her family.

She collapsed outside a restaurant late Sunday night and was rushed to Angliss Hospital in Melbourne, Australia.

Hayes died less than five hours later after a pulmonary embolism, or blood clotting, occurred in her lungs.”

Tanya may have paid the ultimate price for her use of contraceptives, but every one of us is paying something.  

And while it would seem that while there most certainly are individuals and companies who are benefitting from the tremendous sales of contraceptive products, we – the women who use them and the environment in which we live – are not making out so well.

Perhaps the biggest myth enshrouding the practice of contra-ception, Latin for against the beginning (of life) is the unshakable claim that somehow those little pink pill packs have made us, as women, free.  To read much of recent modern feminist literature, one might very easily assume that the entire achievements of equality enjoyed by the fairer sex in the past century were accomplished thanks to the invention of the Pill. 

Truth be told, the assumption that any woman could be, potentially, ‘protected’ from the dangers of an unwanted pregnancy and available for sex sans consequence has led to the expectation that every woman is exactly that: available.

A girlfriend of mine was recently dating a guy – very casually – and they ended up back at her apartment one evening after dinner, chatting on her couch.  After a few minutes of small talk this ‘nice guy’ got down to business, asking if they were, you know, ‘safe’ to hook up.

“So are you like, on something?  I mean, are we safe?”

“Are we safe?” she wondered incredulously..

He turned red (to his miniscule credit) and elaborated “You know, are you like, on the pill?”

“Um, no, I’m not.  And is that seriously how you just asked me to sleep with you?”

The conversation – and the brief relationship – ended about 3 minutes later.

The point was, the assumption, the entire burden of ‘responsibility’ was on her shoulders.  Only difference between this guy and a million other dudes on campus was that he had the crass to say it out loud. 

And neither a condom nor a chemical contraceptive can guarantee ‘protection,’ whether from deadly disease, unwanted pregnancy or no-strings-attached sex.  Despite what you may have heard in health class, or down at the campus health center (which very conveniently stocks loads of free samples from dozens of pharmaceutical companies hawking product and brochures from Planned Parenthood hawking, you guessed it, product).

According to a 2010 economic analysis of contraception by economist Timothy Reichert entitled ‘Bitter Pill,’ “Contraception creates a demand for abortion.”  He likens contraception and abortion to complementary forms of insurance that resemble primary insurance and reinsurance.  “If contraception fails, abortion is there as a fail-safe.”

Data collected from 1960 to 2005 confirms his thesis that the practices of contraception and abortion should rise until equilibrium levels of sexual activity are reached – and indeed, the statistical evidence shows a strong correlation between the rise in legal abortions and the rising use of contraceptive technology.

But we are not simply a target demographic, potential customers and consumers.  In particular have been gifted with a unique and complex sexuality which lends itself to long term investment in a lasting sexual relationship.  Because of the widespread availability of contraceptive technology, a woman is now compelled to enter the sex market at a younger age and ‘compete’ while she is a scarcer commodity, while at the same time driving the cost of abstinence for other women to an historical high. 

Women who choose to delay their entrance into the sex market until they desire to marry find themselves at a profound disadvantage, both from the perspective of availability of potential mates and the stiffer competition from younger sexually active women who, by nature of their suppressed fertility, are available for consequence-free sex. 

In plain terms, what this essentially means is that from a strictly economic perspective, the availability of contraception compels women to make themselves ‘sexually available’ in order to compete with their peers for a rightful share of the market.  It’s a rather grim way of looking at romantic relationships, but there’s evidence of it in every aspect of modern society.  Sex has essentially become the currency and women the desirable product or service.  Not an especially attractive scenario, from a feminist perspective.  Which is why I would advocate that authentic feminism must embrace the whole person rather than reducing her to parts or performance ability. 

Being a woman, having the capacity to conceive and nurture new human life, is not a design flaw.  It doesn’t need to be sutured, suppressed or tied off in order to ‘protect’ men from the consequences of intimacy with us.  Similarly, we needn’t defend ourselves against the scourge of male fertility by means of barriers or chemical repellants.  We are not at war with one another. 
But we are making war on our own bodies, and on the environment in which we live.  

As human beings we are entrusted with an awesome responsibility to till and keep the garden of the natural world.  We are to be stewards and guardians, not polluters and consumers.  Not of the environment, and not of each other.

So the next time somebody engages you on the topic of responsible environmental stewardship, ask them what they’ve done for the planet lately, and maybe think twice before popping your morning Pill.

Because you never know who’s downstream.


  1. Here from Grace's blog and this is a seriously incredible post! Thanks for doing such a great job defending how sex is supposed to be and the dangers of the pill. As an almost-doctor, I'm so discouraged by the widespread use of contraceptives and their affect on marriage and the family. Everyone should read your post :)

  2. At some point in time, disposable contraception and environmental concerns will come to a head.

  3. I love this! It is thorough and informing :) I will probably be doing a post on it and will link this up :)

  4. Love this post! I know several people who are all about the environment, organic foods, and natural health, and yet don't think twice about taking the pill. It blows my mind.

  5. Hi! What an amazing post!!! you nailed it!!! That's awesome! I will also be writing on the topic sometime (hopefully soon) from the point of view of a pharmacy student. As a pharmacy student, we covered the topic of contraceptives extensively in multiple classes, but I also took a class called "Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products in the Environment" in which we read all the research that found the intersex fish and all the other scary and terrible effects that estrogen is having by polluting our drinking water.


Is your email linked to your comment? I'd love to respond to you directly, but I can't if it's not!