Browsing through the luxe Coco de Mer store in Los Angeles it’s easy to be so overwhelmed by the opulence of some of the offerings—a US$10,500 18-carat gold vibrator that looks like a tiny Brâncusi sculpture, a US$1,200 Bretony Vernon “petting ring” designed to stimulate more than the eye—that one can lose sight of the U.K.-based retailer’s nobler intent: to promote eco-sensitive, socially responsible erotic delight. Merchandise has been chosen with The Planet and human rights uppermost in mind; fair trade is practised, local artisans are supported and there’s none of the tawdry quality often associated with products labelled “for novelty use only.” (Most of the vibrators, for instance, are made with non-porous medical-grade silicone.) Sure, you might wonder: “Why shell out US$65 for a “fair trade” blindfold when it’s greener to improvise with a scarf you own? But think of it this way: no workers have been exploited in your quest to get your rocks off—which can only add to the pleasure.
Coco de Mer’s bawdy Body Shop vibe comes naturally: it was founded in 2001 by Sam Roddick, the daughter of Anita Roddick, the British entrepreneur and activist who brought the world cocoa-butter body scrub; her sister, Justine, runs the North Amercian operations. A New York City store will open in November, and outlets in Canada are a definite possibility, says Justine Roddick, speaking from her office in Santa Barbara, Calif., given the amount of Canadian online ordering. (“Eight out of 10 are for sex toys that vibrate,” she reports.)
As a pioneering company, Coco de Mer aims to educate: “When customers come into our store they’re not necessarily looking for ethically made and sourced nipple tassles,” Roddick admits. “But how great when you’re twirling them around to feel: ‘This isn’t made by a sweatshop in Taiwan.’ ”
Greening the sex-toy industry has become a rallying cry among environmentalists eager to end the drawer of dead sex toys destined for landfills. Vanessa Vadim, columnist for the Mother Nature Network, recently took up the cause, recommending “accessories made from sustainably harvested and recycled substances such as leather, glass, metal, or wood. And don’t neglect the vegetable drawer (locally grown and organic, of course).”
The fact that even one’s orgasm can have a traceable carbon footprint underlies the emerging “eco-sexy” market, one that embraces products like the “We-Vibe,” a small, rechargeable $138 vibrator created by Bruce Murison of North Gower, Ont., after he was laid off from Nortel: the lead-free, phthalate-free and carbon-neutral gizmo was named “sex toy of the year” in 2008 by sex educator Sue Johanson.
Part of what’s fuelled the search for healthy alternatives is the fact that sex toys are less regulated than dog toys. “They can be made out of any old rubbish and they usually are,” says Roddick. In Canada, legislators are starting to crack down on the use of phthalates, the chemicals used to make plastics soft and flexible, in children’s toys. But they remain in ostrich mode when talking about adult toys. “It comes down to parliamentarians being too shy to stand up and include sexual products in the list of recalled products,” says Janna Sylvest, who founded the popular Vancouver sex shop Womyns’Ware in 1995 and who now boasts that less than one per cent of their wares are made in China.
Demand for fair-trade sourced, eco-sensitive product prompted sisters Amy and Kim Sedgwick, who own Red Tent Sisters, a Toronto store dedicated to women’s sexual and reproductive health, to launch ecosex.ca two months ago. Its stock includes organic vegan lubricrant, as well as elaborate dildos and butt plugs fashioned from “100 per cent sustainably managed” hardwood and bamboo. Splinters are an initial concern for customers, says Kim Sedgwick, who assures the wood has a medical grade finish. She also enthuses about the virtues of glass: “It warms up and becomes super slippery with lube, can be cleaned in the dishwasher and can last a lifetime.” Plus, “it can be left out like a piece of art.”
And that, no doubt, will happen increasingly as sex toys finally shed their stigma and emerge as proud badges of eco-awareness. Sylvest sees a new militance emerging: “We’re getting the first consumer wave to demand the same quality from their sex toys that they’re demanding for their children’s food,” she says. Until that happens, the sisters will have to continue to do it for themselves.