With Valentine’s Day approaching, obvious thoughts turn to all things love, romance and sweet nothings. With that, in my practice come questions about chemicals and unsafe ingredients in condoms and lube and what natural options I recommend. This year I had the opportunity to attend W.E.L.L Summit in NYC and one of the breakout sessions was about the production and supply chain of condoms with Sustain co-founder Meika Hollender. I learned so much and couldn’t wait to come home and share it with my patients (and pretty much everyone I know).
I had never given condoms much thought but after W.E.L.L Summit they seemed to occupy a lot of time in my mind. I was stunned to learn more about the supply chain involved in the production of condoms. Condoms are an $11 billion global industry and currently 3 brands (Trojan, Lifestyles, and Durex) control 95% of the market. Unfortunately, these brands do not put any emphasis on sustainability, fair trade practices or processing without carcinogens. Most latex collected from the rubber trees is cultivated in Asia and Africa and the majority of the rubber plantations use child labor and pay their workers below minimum wage. Another concern I have with condoms occurs when they are produced; conventional latex condoms often contain harmful carcinogenic chemicals that are introduced to the female body during use. Though the vaginal mucus membranes absorb only a small amount of nitrosamines and the overall risk of cancer from condom use is low, I would love to see all condom manufacturers eliminate the nitrosamines from their products. Check out this report about nitrosamines in condoms put together by the Reproductive Health Technologies Project. This all being said, the benefits of condoms far outweigh the risks and I am not discouraging their use.
What condom brands do I recommend?
If you are visiting the USA I recommend that you pick up Sustain Condoms (unfortunately, this brand is not yet available in Canada). Sustain is the first condom brand to use certified Fair Trade Rubber, ensuring that no child labor is involved in the collection of latex, and that plantation workers are paid fairly and that they and their families are provided healthcare and educational opportunities. Sustain is also free of nitrosamines so that both users and factory workers during manufacturing are not exposed to this potentially harmful chemical. Another unique feature of Sustain is that it is the first condom positioned for women and has a strong female sexual empower message and design.
Other brands that are nitrosamine-free (you’ll notice a number of these are non-latex condoms):
A few years ago I started researching the ingredients in sexual lubricants because a lot of my fertility patients were asking if it may contribute to their challenges getting pregnant. I was appalled by some of the commonly used ingredients in personal lubricant and wound up down the rabbit hole trying to find safer alternatives that would not compromise the users health.
Ingredients to avoid in your lube:
Glycerin is known to increase the risk of yeast infections and is definitely worth avoiding in any lube that is being used vaginally.
I recommend that people avoid parabens in all personal care products including personal lubricants. There is evidence that parabens contribute to hormonal imbalances by disrupting endocrine function by mimicking estrogen.
Sugars are not vagina friendly and can contribute to the growth of pathogenic bacteria and the development of bacterial vaginosis.
- Propylene Glycol and Chlorhexidine
These ingredients can lead to tissue irritation and may causing burning.
Now that you are well equipped to make an informed choice about the condoms and lube you use, you might be wondering how a Naturopath can help with your sexual health. Did you know your ND can perform a gynecological exam and PAP? Also, there are many natural options to help with libido, family planning and hormonal balance so if you are struggling with exhaustion, low libido, or vaginal pain or discomfort check in with a Naturopath.
Reproductive Health Technologies Project – Nitrosamines in Condoms
American Chemistry Society – Studies Raise Questions About Safety of Personal Lubricants
Berkeley University of California Wellness – The Slippery Facts About Lubricants
Dr. Jen Newell is passionate about helping people embrace health, feel amazing and easily incorporate “real” food into their busy lives. Her mission is to make health accessible and achievable, and to inspire patients to live an active, vibrant and healthy life.
Jen has a clinical focus on digestive health, food sensitivities and healthy nutrition; mental health and stress-related illness; women’s health, hormone balance and fertility; optimal aging; and dermatology. She focuses on integrating healthy foods into one’s diet in a medicinal and therapeutic capacity and providing individuals with nutritional support that is easy to incorporate into a busy day. Dr. Newell practices at the Integrative Health Institute in Downtown Toronto.