Working Blue: Good, Low-Energy Sex in a Depleted World

Get nine women who have thought a lot about peak oil and climate change together around a dining room table, and perhaps expectedly, the conversation turns Get them around *my* dining room table and the turn to sex is pretty inevitable, given a certain native blueness (this is a polite way of saying "dirty mindness"). The absence of gents from this affair (completely unintended) made us rather uninhibited about certain subjects. And at the end of one conversation, I realized that I've got a rather gaping hole in my body of works on how to go forward into the future - I've never yet written a piece about sustainable sex toys and techniques. I promised the women at my table that I would remedy this.

I realize that Crunchy Chicken is probably going to sue me for infringing on her territory. She, after all, has already delved deep into handmade wooden dildoes, the forest sustainability of wooden spanking paddles and other pleasures. But I still want to go over the whole picture of good sex in the future - after all, this is one of those deep quality-of-life issues that seems mostly funny and trivial, and just isn't. As long as we are facing a future in which many of the things we have valued are being lost, those of us who like that sort of thing will need regular orgasms. They lower stress, are good for your heart and can do a great deal to soften a whole lot of blows - my feeling is that you can endure a great deal if you know that you will have the occasional escape with the person or technique of your choice, if you get to feel loved and satisfied.

One of the good things about living in a culture in crisis is that most of the things you do in bed are pretty sustainable. Unless your fantasy life involves the mile-high club or fast cars, you can pretty much be sure that your sexual activities will be mostly human powered. Even if you make use of some latex or something electrically powered, it probably isn't one of your big uses of resources. Still, many of us would prefer our sex life to be low impact. So what are our options for lowering it? And what can we do to prep to keep having hard times in harder times (ok, sorry, but you've got to let me do that occasionally ;-)), when toys, tools and power are less available to us?

The number one impact of our sex lives is whether anything long-term follows the act - ie, kids and diseases. The reality is that just as tightwad Amy Dacyzyn observed that you cannot save resources in menstrual supplies by being continually pregnant, you also can't save on latex and plastics by getting pregnant a lot. Moreover, if you don't want to be pregnant, being pregnant is a source of stress. Treating STDs is also not low impact. So prevention, prevention, prevention (assuming that you want to be preventing, in the case of pregnancy) is the rule.

The number one most sustainable method of contraception for them in heteroconditions (besides switching to a same-sex partner or celibacy, if that's a reasonable option for you), suitable only for them that are not planning on reproducing or done is surgical - if you are het and in your breeding years, and you want to reduce your impact, get your dude to the vasectomy guy forthwith! We women can do this too, but it is much bigger surgery and higher impact, so gentlemen - be gentlemen.

If you aren't ready for the surgical option, hormone based birth control probably has the highest impact, since we're finding residues of these in our water tables. Barrier methods are better, if you are low fertility. Some people speak highly of natural fertility awareness, but this is a difficult method for people with high fertility, Jews who practice niddah, those with irregular periods and very young women - I think it is something a speciality method. But remember, again, lower impact birth control is only useful if it actually works. If you are crazy-fertile like me, use what you gotta if you don't want more kids.

Do not neglect disease prevention. One good argument for stable partnerships is simpy that it allows you to get tested and give up many of the barrier accoutrements that go with playing around. Hang around each other long enough, and have sex only with each other long enough (and yes, I know, some people cheat, and nothing is perfect) and you can reduce your usage of condoms and dental dams as much as you feel cool with. But if you have any doubts about your partner, or you have had previous partners and haven't been tested, again, the environmental impact of HIV drugs or treating genital warts is bound to be greater than all the condoms you could ever use. Obviously, if you have a chronic STD like HIV or herpes, make sure you stock a supply of protection - research the longest lasting varieties and store them carefully.

On to the fun parts. Don't buy cheap plastic crap, including cheap plastic sex toys. Buy higher quality silicone, glass or metal products. Don't lube up with vaseline or other related petro-crap. If you aren't using condoms or dental dams that could be destroyed by the oils, my personal favorite lube is coconut oil - solid at room temp, it melts in your hands, smells and tastes good, etc... But astroglide does have a glycerine option, while others are fairly low impact as well. Again, if you are using condoms or dental dams, don't use oils - use a lube designed for the purpose. If you are into scent, it is not difficult to make your own scented lubes from oils (if you are post-condom) or glycerin.

Many women and some men are extremely fond of small buzzy objects - more women are involved because it is generally (not always) harder for women to get off than men. Most lovers vibrate fairly well, but perhaps not at the same speed as one's battery powered friend. Now I have to warn you - in an actual end-of-all scenario, your vibrator will not outlast your desire for it. Even the best constructed vibe is probably not good for more than a decade. But consider it a useful transitional technology - the odds are that if the zombies come, there will be a certain amount of running around and screaming, but also long periods of boredom. During the transitional period, you can train up your preferred gent or lady in the gifts of high speed motion in precise locations with hand or mouth - you will have the time to master this skiil, before the last day that your buzzing friend peters out.

Which means that if vibrations are your thing, it is worth investing in a high quality vibrator, not made of cheap plastic, and a couple of sets of batteries and a solar batery charger. For less than 100-200 dollars, you can ensure that your household is set for the apocalypse on this particular front. Or, if you have more money or take this more seriously, you could install solar panels and choose a plug in model. I've never actually met anyone who reasoning for installing PV was so they could run their sex toys after the apocalypse, but hey...

I recently had a reader ask me about natural substitutes for viagra. This gentleman emailed me to observe that since a recent medical crisis, he has relied on viagra or one of its equivalents to keep things happy around his house. His observation was that this was an important quality of life issue for him and his partner, and he really wanted to be able to keep going if times got hard. This is a perfectly reasonable concern, and while I couldn't give him any actual analysis of how shelf stable viagra is when stored (you'll have to contact the medical manufacturer), a US government program on shelf-stability showed that the majority of medications decline in quality very slowly after their expiration dates. I advised the person in question to contact the drug manufacturer and ask whether his specific medication becomes toxic over time. If it does not, he should be able to stockpile and store.

For those who rely on other medications to make their sex lives work - hormones for those who have gender transitioned, for women who suffer from vaginal pain or severe dryness and others, again, stockpile and research. In many cases you can store a good supply, if you can afford them. If not, you can also consider joining with other medication-dependent people in your community to talk to both drug companies and local emergency infrastructure about ensuring drug supplies coming in during periods of disruption.

There are herbal alternatives listed for lack of desire in both men and women, but I honestly can't tell you much about whether or how they work or which ones are safe. Sometimes, for reasons of illness or stress, things just aren't working in our bodies. The reality is that less affluence may mean that most of us can do little about this, other than accept it, offer kindness, respect and affection in ways we can share, and love one another as best we can. Recognizing that every life has periods in which sex drives and abilities do not match up, is, IMHO, a real part of being together with anyone. That doesn't make this easy, though. If you are struggling with this issue, try and figure out what the problem is now, while medical interventions are mostly available.

I can't hope to cover the full range of tastes and desires out there. Stockpile and store is good advice no matter what your preferences are, or whether you are partnered or not. Some things, like the beautiful wooden dildoes that La Crunch featured on her site in links above are actually pretty easy to keep coming in tough times. Vegetables are even easier, if that's your thing. If not, I would suggest a stockpile of your favorite sustainable perfume, brand of chaps, erotic poetry, six inch heels, or whatever floats your particular boat.

Stress is tough on most people, sexually speaking. One of the things that is likely to happen in tough times is that people stop wanting to have sex, not just for health or biochemical reasons, but also, because they are stressed and overwhelmed. This can put more pressure on an already strained partnership. It is really hard when there's a lot of bad stuff going on in the world, and you are overwhelmed, to put it aside for a little while and just attend to sex, but I think it is worth it. I already know people who, having encountered peak oil and climate change, are chronically so stressed out that they don't want to make love. It is tough enough to help a partner transition through new knowledge - taking away lovemaking will not help with that transition. I know that this is easier said than done, but try and step back and remember one another.

On the other hand, much of the life of the sustainable is very vital and sensual. One of the great things about living a less mediated, more material life is that it is really pretty hot. Going out into the garden, working together side by side, filling a basket with lush produce, watching a loved one use their bodies in unaccustomed ways. These things wake us up and bring us together. There's no point in resisting - there's a reason why they call it "a roll in the hay." Might as well roll!

For all of this focus on equipment, most of the tools for really good sex are not tools at all, and they will be with you always. They are looking and listening carefully to the one you are with. They are the wise use of hands and mouths and mind. They are the application of love, generosity, kindness and affection. These things will not run out anytime soon. They are not subject to depletion, and we have them now for our enjoyment, and should keep them in good order.


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Hi! Just wanted to say that I'm a bit surprised you didn't mention any kind of fertility awareness (or better yet, a combination of methods--I do calendar, BBT, and monitoring cervical mucus) as a form of birth control. Like many things having to do with transition to a more sustainable lifestlye, it involves self-control and creativity, mostly during times of fertility. My partner and I are not in a spot to have kids right now and have only been doing this for about 7 months, so we still use condoms when I'm not fertile, but we just find ways other than intercourse to get through the fertile times (this is where those fantastic wooden dildos come in!). And really, all it takes is a sheet of paper to chart everything and a BBT thermometer. Pretty low-impact, I'd say.

**Don't do this without researching it fully and without the full support of both partners!

Anon, I do mention it. But for some of the reasons you mention plus others (some mentioned here) I tend to think this is a fairly specialized method, of fairly limited utility. It requires a high degree of personal restraint, regular periods, maturity, that you not be an observant Jew, that you not suffer from insanely high fertility as I did - and some people may not know all of those things before they undertake it. I think it is a great method for some people and not so great for others - which is why I don't put it high on the list.


before I even read the post I gotta say, I read the headline "good, low-energy sex" and immediately thought "spooning position." Ha! Okay.... off to read the column now....
great post! My only addition would be to mention the IUD as a low impact, long term option. If you are extremely paranopid and worry that you might not have access to a doctor to remove it in ten years, well, then, this isn't the method for you. It also isn't the method for anyone with multiple partners or a history of pelvic inflammatory disease or endometriosis. However, for many of us (including me) the IUD is a great stress-free, hormone free option

Holy wooden dildos, Sharon! I was going to spend a bunch of time researching this weekend all this stuff for my seminars at the Eugene Home Show next weekend, since I'm hoping to incorporate sustainable sex into my second seminar.

Anyway, now I can spend my time picking up some glass dildos for the show-n-tell portion of the show. This is, assuming that there are minimal children in the audience in which case, they'll just have to listen to my spiel on DivaCups and cloth pads :)


Oh, and one more thing. Avoid PVC, plastics and anything referred to as "jelly" (soft plasticky things) like the plague. You really don't want that stuff anywhere near your bits, particularly for insertion.

Stick to wood, natural rubber and glass.

I know you're focusing on actual sexual intercourse for this post, probably rightly since we live in a culture absolutely obsessed with sex and sexual gratification, but I wanted to bring something else up.

Tantra (now, don't roll your eyes!) puts a GREAT amount of emphasis on simple presence. Eye contact, simple touch and body contact, and focusing on your and your partner's breath. Orgasms are great, but they'll come easier when you have developed a regular emphasis on sensual vs. sexual. I personally think that really good, soul satisfying sex can only come from the starting point of being grounded in loving sensual.

DH and I don't practice Tantra as people think of it normally but we have taken much from those simple ideas. It has kept our marriage from falling apart during some very stressful times.

I would imagine getting an IUD inserted (even if it ends up being a few over the course of a women's fertile years) would be a more sustainable option than dozens or hundreds of condoms or other barrier methods, no?

Having worked in the adult toy industry and developed chemical sensitivities during that time that I suspect were due to exposure to warehouses full of off-gassing sex toys, I really appreciate this post - it made me laugh and is also right-on. For those who find vegetables and wooden toys don't quite work, silicone is a much better option for sex toys than jelly rubber or "cyberskin" because it doesn't off-gas and lasts *forever* so you'll never have to replace them.

I also like coconut oil or jojoba oil for lube when not worried about it degrading latex. Otherwise I stick to various natural and organic glycerine-free (glycerine causes yeast infections for many women) lubes that are pricy but worthwhile and can be bought online or at specialty sex shops like Babeland and Good Vibrations. You can even buy natural lubes on Etsy I've heard.

One good thing about sex is it enables one to keep the heat down, since it's a great way to get really warm!

Apparently sex toy stores are getting on the "greeN" bandwagon - how much it's really green and how much it's greenwashing I"m not sure:

"I realized that I've got a rather gaping hole in my body"


Oh, PLEASE tell me that was pure accident- it would be so much funnier that way!


You likely missed it, but some weeks ago I unloaded on the folks over at TAE- they were starting to tease me about the fact that I mention sex in my comments, fairly regularly.

Because, as a biologist, I'm aware of its importance. And as you point out, it's TOTALLY ignored by the sustainable stuff tribes. Last year on Rob Hopkins blog they had a long long list of skills and trades needed in future localized towns- and I commented "What, no sex workers?" - because, they'd omitted that.

Sex is just not ever going away folks- and most likely neither is sex "work". Planning for it kind of has to be better than not; and waking up some day to find organized criminals have it under their control.

And, is it easy to talk about?? Wow. So not. Women are better about talking seriously about it; I've managed to infiltrate a couple "women's" roundtables, me the only male; and managed to make them comfortable enough with me that they were freely talking about lactation details.

Still, we never did get around to all the ins and outs of sex, per se.

Men really suck at that.

All macho noises notwithstanding.


Wow. At first blush it looks like everyone is far more imaginative than we are, and then I realize that just getting to be alone is our biggest hurdle. There are times (despite the Greer analysis above) to wish for less community.

Greenpa, I actually gave up talking about sex and pregnancy at The Oil Drum because there was a strong sense that men would be doing manly things and that women- in a completely different sphere- would be taking care of that. It was a weird psychological twist that persisted across the group.

I'm not sure I think that the IUD is a great solution. If you imagine that you might not have medical care access, you could have it for a very long time, which doesn't seem totally safe to me. My concern is that for women who do want to have children, the IUD represents a barrier they might not be able to afford to get out, and for women who don't, surgical sterilization is probably the better choice.

Greenpa, no one believes that you are just sex obsessed because you are a biologist. No one ;-).


Sweet ever lovin' Louise... you actually wrote it! *laughs, hard* Excellent, thoughtful points, Sharon. So glad we were able to suggest a topic that needed your particular genius of insight!

Sharon: "Greenpa, no one believes that you are just sex obsessed because you are a biologist. No one ;-)."

Well, duh! I'm sex obsessed because I'm a normal human being! You don't even have to be a "man" for that.

I TALK about it- because I'm a biologist. :-)

I'm glad you mentioned hormones for those who have or are gender transitioning--this is a quality of life issue that isn't all about sex for most transgender people. (Not that sex isn't important, but it's not the only focus for most transgender people--removing the layer of added stress that comes from your body not looking or feeling right and people consistently mislabeling you in casual social interactions is sometimes lifesaving for transgender people, and could really be lifesaving in a highly stressful crisis.)

It could be reassuring for other transgender people to realize that folks have been gender transitioning for thousands of years. Many human cultures have had a socially-accepted (to various degrees) means of acknowledging a transition from one gender to another. Often these involved some medical intervention--the gallae of ancient Greece and Rome had genital reassignment surgery for transgender women (MTF) via sword, and I've heard rumors of concentrated mare and stallion urine being used as hormone replacement in ancient China--but in many cultures a transition to another gender was formalized ritually without medical intervention at all. I know an herbalist who is studying hormonal effects of plant medicine.

I'd like to see more people in our community talk about this--I'm participating in a few queer sustainability groups, but it's not common to see the environment put forth as a LGBT issue, and likewise the most I've been able to get out of most peak oilers is an idea that LGBT people, especially transgender people, will just evaporate when we no longer have the "luxury" of being who we're made to be. Transgender people have been around for thousands of years, in different cultural contexts. We won't just disappear when the medical industrial complex starts to crumble.

I know I keep saying this on other entries --- but I'm so glad you're talking about this. I've wanted to talk about sex on my blog for a while, but have been a bit afraid of driving away the family friendly crowd.

Because, to me, sex is one of the huge bonuses of living a simpler, homesteading life. There's more of it and it's better when you spend most of your day hanging out around your spouse. (Chainsawing may not be foreplay in most people's books, but I find it awfully sexy. :-)

We went the vasectomy route and boy is it great. Not just fewer resources, but better sex (and less stress for me.)

Thanks so much for this post Sharon. As a happily child-free (but still fertile) person, I have pondered why so many discussions of sustainability and domestic life that exclude sexuality & sensuality. In my list of 'top ten life-changing books', 3 are about money/frugality, 4 are about food and gardening and 3 have to do with sexuality and relationships!

Oh lord, TIG "warehouses full of off-gassing sex toys".......I am really going to stop complaining about my job ;)
And I always thought low energy sex was the sort you have after a 60 hour working week.....

By sealander (not verified) on 14 Jan 2010 #permalink

Two points--
1. I removed my own IUD. It was an old-style big with a long cord, but I yanked it right out with no problems. No subsequent problems, either.
2. In other, non-Western medicine parts of the world, people have used withdrawal very successfully as a way to limit fertility. No it's not as effective as hormones or gadgets like IUDs, but couples can learn to use it effectively.

One of the things that may happen is that what we find attractive in a mate may change. Having skills may be more attractive than looks because keeping the household and future happiness will depend on it in a way it doesnt now.

In my dreams, slightly plump women who can cook, bake, keep the family in clothes and handle a hammer or plunger will be the archetype of the hot babe.....

Being a PBS junkie, one of the things I remember the women from Frontier House talking about after the show ended was how just plain exhaustion had worked as contraception during their experience. Coupled with reduced calories and lack of bathing, I suppose.

Thank you for writing the occasional post that reminds us that fun will exist even if the world changes drastically.

Kinky folks, remember that many kitchen implements are pervertible. Just remember to WASH the wooden spoon when you're done whacking your sweetie with it.

It's amusing, yet reassuring, to consider that one of my stronger skills, telling naughty stories, will likely remain useful after TEOTWAWKI. We may need to restore a few vintage hand-cranked presses to distribute them, printed on the back of aging junk mail, but I suspect they'll still find a market.