Eco Sex - bringing sexy back to the earth.

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This month, Kim Sedgwick tells us how to put spice into our environmental actions. She co-owns a boutique and wellness centre, Red Tent Sisters, with her sister Amy. Together they created ecosex.ca as a way to make it easier for people to have “environmentally-friendly” orgasms. Their mother helps unpack boxes of dildos and their dad proofreads all text! Naturally, we have a lot of questions for the family who’s bringing sexy back to the earth.

gis: How did two sisters end up starting a sex store specializing in environmentally friendly products?

Kim: A bunch of things sort of converged together. I went to school for Women’s Studies and English out in Halifax and there was a store out there called Venus Envy that specializes in sexuality and then they also have books. Our father was in publishing, so Amy and I always thought it would always be cool to own a bookstore together. Kind of hard to do in Toronto where Indigo and Chapters are sort of taking over. So I was interested in sexuality, interested in books, and my sister, when she went off of hormonal birth control, had some complications with breast feeding and things like that and I found out a lot of information about what the pill actually does to you. We were living together at the time, I was helping take care of her daughter, and thought, “Wouldn’t it be cool to create a space that was safe to talk about sexuality and fertility, and all of that stuff in a holistic way?”

Then we found out the sex toy industry is unregulated and they can put pretty much anything they want into a toy because it’s labelled as a novelty product, meaning it’s not intended for use. I didn’t know that until we started the store and I started opening the boxes and there was this funky odour and I was like, “This doesn’t smell right.” So I did some research and found out it was the phthalates actually leaching out of the plastics.”

gis: Phthalates sound quite unnatural and kind of scary. What are they and what do they do?

Kim: Phthalates are a chemical used to soften plastic. Traditionally, toys are made out of plastic and they’re jelly, that soft, squishy material. Phthalates are added to make it into that squishy material and phthalates are known to be an endocrine disrupter, which means they disrupt the hormonal balance of your body. They’ve actually been banned from baby products. Along with BPA’s, phthalates were also banned.

My concern is: if they’re toxic enough to not be in baby products, why should adults be exposed to it, particularly if you’re putting it in mucous areas of your body, that doesn’t seem like it is a good idea.

There is a lot of evidence that it builds up in our bodies and phthalates are used in all kinds of products – like shower curtains – all kinds of products have phthalates. I’m all about reducing exposure. If you can have something without the chemicals, why wouldn’t you go that route? So there are more and more companies making phthalate-free toys, particularly toys made of silicone, which is really great.

In addition to all the chemicals, jelly toys are really hard to clean, so then you end up buying toy cleaners, so you’re adding chemicals to chemicals and then putting it in your body, which I don’t think is great.

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gis: So what’s the best way to clean toys?

Kim: In my opinion, I believe you shouldn’t have any toy that cannot be cleaned without warm water and soap.

I don’t even believe there should be such thing as toy cleaner because if you use a toy cleaner, it means your toy is porous and it’s probably not good for you.

Most toys can actually be boiled. If you want to save water, you can put it in the dishwasher. Most of them can be put on the top rack along with everything else.

gis: While searching for products, did you find companies focusing on environmental kindess or are eco-friendly sex products a happy accident?

Kim: Most of the companies were doing it really purposefully. Not so much about the environmental standpoint; a lot of it has to do with the cleanliness, actually, which was an interesting issue. Particularly the toys that are being used anally, it’s hard to clean them, so people were using silicone because you can boil it. So it was more from that standpoint. I’d say it was more the health aspect for our physical body, less so the toxic side of things, but there certainly are more companies that are starting to do that for the environmental.

Certainly rechargeables are way more popular. There’s something about vibrators; they seem to go through batteries like nothing else. I don’t know if it’s how much they get used, or if it’s the motors, or what’s happening, but they seem to go through a lot of batteries! These batteries, unfortunately, a lot of people just throw them in the garbage rather than properly dispose of them, so rechargeables are becoming more popular.

As I said earlier, they originally were novelty products. A lot of people were buying them for, like, jokes at a Bachelorette, but more people were using these products, so why not make them so they last? So that they can be turned on for more than two seconds.

The other thing is, people were coming in, saying, “Well, I spent twenty bucks, but I also threw it away after one use.” That’s not environmentally friendly or very cost efficient if you’re constantly replacing it.

So I’d certainly say there are more and more companies that are trying to make them both safer for our bodies and better for the environment. One of my favourite companies is actually called Happy Valley, located in Peterborough.

You’ve got an “Ask an EcoSexpert” space on your site. What is the one thing everyone needs to know?

Kim: That they aren’t required to label products so you need to be informed. There are certainly more and more places where you can do that, so pretty much any good company will have their own website where they will list everything about what’s in their product and what they’re doing for the environment, so I’d just say, “Do your research before you buy a product and make sure that you’re informed because no one else is looking out for you.”

Do you see any difference in the environmental awareness of the sex toy industry since you began your business?

Kim: Definitely. We only opened two and a half years ago and I’d say there’s been a huge shift in terms of what people are coming out with. Even those companies I mentioned that don’t have a mandate to be eco-friendly or to be better, I think there’s enough pressure that one or two of their products are better for the environment or for you. If the big companies are jumping on the bandwagon, it’s a sign of a bigger movement and I think people are becoming more informed. The best thing you can do is make an informed choice and do your research and people are doing that. They’re going into stores and they’re saying, “I don’t want this on my body. I want something that’s safe.” I think there’s pressure and we’re going to see a huge change in the industry in the next few years.

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Give us the lowdown on eco-friendly toy materials. We see wood and glass stuff on your site. And is silicone really okay for the environment?

Kim: My feeling is that silicone is good because it is phthalate-free, which is part of what makes it eco-friendly. It’s also not going going to degrade, so it’s eco-friendly because it will last a long time. The reverse of that is that it will not bio-degrade in the end. So it’s not the most eco-friendly, but it’s certainly way better than the alternatives that are in the mainstream.

For people trying to find the most eco-friendly, I would say glass is fantastic. As long as they’re careful with it, it will never break and it will last a lifetime. Wood is also great. I’m going to try to get some clay ones in. A friend of mine is a potter, so she’s going to make some clay dildos, so that’s certainly eco-friendly. When it comes to toy materials, there are degrees to what’s the best.

Even if we choose long-lasting toys, there will be a time when we have to dispose of them. What do we do?

Kim: Excellent question! I went to the City (of Toronto) and asked what I can suggest to my customers that they could do with these toys and to my dismay, they said to throw them in the garbage like everything else. On my long to-do list is to find a way to do a recycling program.*

Toys or no toys, what’s the easiest thing someone can do to put a little eco into his or her sex life?

Kim: Well, if you want to think broadly, shower with your partner. Save some water that way. Just don’t have any fun times in the shower because then it will probably end up being a long shower and that’s not very eco-friendly!

Do it with the lights off and save electricity! Or if you want to use a soy candle, that’s much better than petroleum-based candles.

If you’re using condoms only for pregnancy and not for STIs, there are much better forms of contraception, like fertility awareness methods.

Yeah, there are lots of things you can do and most of those are free! You’re saving the environment and saving yourself some money.

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Finally, what’s the sexiest thing about being Green?

Kim: You can do it with a clean conscience, which always makes you feel better about yourself!


All photos except website (c) Katherine Topolniski, 2010, K B T PHOTOGRAPHY




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