Vitality Let’s Talk About (Sustainable) Sex Sexual health might the last frontier for many of us as we opt for a healthier and more natural lifestyle. Here is why it’s important. By Helen Avery Curious for more of the birds and the bees? Learn from Meika at Wellspring this October! We are a world that’s becoming obsessed with staying healthy. It is estimated that the wellness industry alone (fitness and mind-body exercise) is a $400 billion industry worldwide. The health food industry is worth almost $300 billion. And yet while we spend vast amounts of time and money investing in ways to eat well and keep fit, we don’t always live by the same rules when it comes to our sexual health. Why? According to research, only 21 percent of single women between the ages of 22 and 44 use condoms regularly. It’s a shocking statistic, given the amount of education we receive about the health risks of unsafe sex. Here are two more eye-opening statistics: 20 million new STD infections are contracted every year in the United States, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention those rates are going up. If left unrecognized and untreated some STDs can even lead to infertility. Unsafe sex is now the number one health risk among women worldwide. So why are women ignoring their health when it comes to sex? “Sadly while we like to consider ourselves an open and liberal society, for a woman, carrying a condom still poses the internal question: Will I be seen as being responsible and taking care of my health? Or will I simply be seen as easy? Even the most successful, empowered and healthy women out there may not be practicing safe sex,” says Meika Hollender, co-founder of natural sexual health products firm, Sustain. She is running a campaign called Get On Top encouraging women to take a pledge that they will practice safe sex. And for every pledge made, a Sustain condom is donated to women in need. Meika’s mission to highlight the importance of sexual health came during business school when she was shocked to learn that one in four freshman contract an STD. It coincided with her father’s desire to start a new business. Earlier in his career, he founded Seventh Generation—purveyors of natural and sustainable products. “It seemed the perfect fit for us to merge our two missions, and to go into business together,” says Meika. What she did not expect was the level of shaming she received after launching the business. “We have a long way to go in our society in normalizing the discussion around women and their sexuality” – Meika Hollender “From the responses I had, I realized we have a long way to go in our society in normalizing the discussion around women and their sexuality,” says Meika. “It’s important to move towards that so that all women can feel comfortable taking responsibility for their own sexual health and staying safe.” Within the discussion of healthy sex, there is also the topic of the safety of feminine products and contraceptives. While we can be conscious of avoiding foods or skin products that contain harmful chemicals, we aren’t so cautious when it comes to our feminine health. What many women don’t know, says Meika, is that most popular lubricants are made with glycerin and petroleum—products that have been deemed as harmful by the World Health Organization. For women, research suggests such lubricants can lead to a bacteria build-up which makes them more vulnerable to contracting STDs as well as being at increased risk of transmitting disease. Some condoms also pose a health threat says Meika. Many contain carcinogens within the latex that can be released during sex. “I always say any condom is better than no condom, but if you have a choice then opt for an organic condom rather than something that contains ingredients that can damage your insides,” says Meika. She offers three pieces of advice when it comes to practicing safe and healthy sex for men and women: 1. Pledge to practice safe sex Your health is important. Carry a condom, and don’t be afraid to use it. 2. Start talking about safe sex Let’s break the taboo about women taking responsibility for their sexual health, and instead become more supportive of each other in protecting our own health and that of our sexual partner. 3. Look closely at the sexual products you are using Whether it’s sex toys, condoms, lubrication or sanitary products, don’t forget this is a very intimate part of your body. Be sure to check whether the products you use could harm your health or the health of your partner. — Helen Avery is a contributing writer for Wanderlust. She is also a journalist, writer, yoga teacher, minister, and full-time dog walker of Millie, residing in Brooklyn, New York. You can find out more about her on her website, Life as Love.