Does an item that’s already one of the sustainable “seven wonders” of the world really need to get even more sustainable? When it comes to condoms—listed, along with bikes, ceiling fans, public libraries, clotheslines, ladybugs, and pad Thai (!), in John C. Ryan’s 1998 book Seven Wonders: Everyday Things for a Healthier Planet—why not?
At least, that’s the thinking of the father-daughter (hello, awkward!) business team behind Sustain Condoms, a new Vermont-based company whose principals include cofounders of Seventh Generation, a company that popularized unbleached, recycled-content toilet paper. With a portion of Sustain’s profits going to women’s health initiatives and a litany of certifications that everyone and everything involved in the making of these condoms has been treated with tenderness (“cruelty free and vegan,” Fair Trade, B Corporation, etc.), the whole thing feels a bit predictable, like a school project brought to life by a young MBA with hippie-capitalist parents. Still, rolling on one of these sheaths could be a way to impress that cute square from the vegan bakery or the sextivist you met at that Roe v. Wade anniversary happy hour—assuming, that is, your foreplay includes pointing out the tiny type and symbols on the box. The condom wrappers themselves don’t list all the credentials. They do, though, have pretty pictures of bamboo, river rocks, and shells that wouldn’t be out of place in chic hotel lobby or the bathroom at a spa in the Pearl District. In an industry whose packaging is often geared to teenage boys, it’s a pleasant departure.
And the condoms themselves? “All right for latex, I guess” was the only critique I could draw out of my partner. The euphemistically named “tailored fit” was hard to unroll—with a smaller diameter at the opening, it might be a little too tailored for some. Though the flared “comfort fit” version does have a pleasant wag to it for the non-wearer, in our experience it offered less sensitivity to the wearer himself than the basic “ultra-thin.” That one’s a hundredth of a millimeter thinner than the “fitted” products, but it’s no thinner than other similarly named products on the market, and none of the Sustain condoms have any ribbing or texturing to offer a little something extra. The lack of bells and whistles is part of the branding, of course, as is the company slogan urging us to “do what’s natural.”
I guess it’s nice to know that this particular latex sap spurted from trees in a historic, certified-nonevil rubber plantation in India instead of some of the johnny-come-lately plantings in other parts of the world, which may be pushing out other crops and have the potential for serious environmental harm. And in our trials they definitely performed the essential tasks of condoms: they stayed on and caught the goods, with no breaking or bursting. I’m happy to add a few to my arsenal for the pretty pictures alone, but I doubt I’ll seek them out in bulk. Aren’t I doing the world a solid just by using a condom at all?
Sustain’s products are available locally at Pharmaca and area Fred Meyers, and through sustaincondoms.com.