I’m still mildly amused when people ask if semen is vegan*. However, there is a less amusing issue that vegans might not be aware of: many condoms aren’t vegan. Same for personal lubricant. And birth control. Here’s a handy little guide for the ethical consumer on why these things might not be vegan, and a short list of some vegan alternatives.
Disclaimer: I’m not making a political statement, I’m only sharing information for those seeking it. As well, I’d rather people be safe and use protection with animal components than no protection.
While there is no one regulated definition of vegan, the issue is that latex condoms contain casein, which is a protein derived from curdled milk.
There are at least four latex condom lines that don’t contain casein, and they generally cost about the same as non-vegan condoms:
- Sir Richard’s condoms are widely available in the U.S. Aaaand for every condom you buy, the company donates a condom to someone in need. Click here for their store locator.
- Glyde condoms are available in various U.S. stores.
- RFSU, the Swedish Association for Sexuality Education, distributes condoms in the U.S. via O!Zone
- French Letter and Fair Squared condoms are available in the U.K. and certified Fair Trade
- Condomi condoms use cocoa powder instead of casein. They are not currently available in the U.S. or Canada
Other options that are easier to find offline (albeit not vegan certified) include Durex Avanti Ultima in the U.S. and Pasante in the U.K.
You can also get internal condoms made of nitrile, which are more expensive but latex-free. ORIGAMI condoms aren’t on the market yet but all versions (external, internal vaginal, and internal anal) are made of silicone rather than latex.
Lubricant is often either tested on animals or contains animal-based ingredients such as gelatin, lactoperoxidase, or animal fats.
I highly recommend Sliquid’s water-based and silicone-based lubes for the conscious consumer. Sliquid is animal-free and animal-friendly, 100% sugar-free, paraben-free, and condom-friendly. They also have an organic version. YES water-based lubricants are also vegan-friendly.
If you’re not using latex condoms, you can also use straight coconut oil. It breaks down more quickly in the vagina than other oils and has antifungal properties, so it’s totally safe for internal use. Just make sure you’re hygienic about it, store it properly, and don’t dip your hand in the jar.
There is pretty much no vegan hormonal birth control. Every pill that the Happy Herbivore blog has researched contains milk ingredients or other animal derivatives. Some are specifically made from hormones extracted from pregnant horse urine.
Copper IUDs are popular among women who want long-term, low-maintenance contraception without hormones. They work by releasing copper ions that kill sperm and by preventing implantation. The downside is that you might not be able to use menstrual cups while you have an IUD, but this varies on a case-by-case basis. Ask your doctor to make sure.
A silicone cervical cap with spermicide or ContraGel Green (vegan-friendly and free of nonoxynol-9**) is also an option. The cap comes in three sizes based on your obstetrical history and fits over the cervix to block sperm from entering, while the gel completes the seal, slows the movement of sperm, and maintains a low-pH environment inhospitable to sperm. U.S. residents can get a prescription for the cap or order both OTC from the U.K.
While vegan and hormone-free isn’t for everybody, there is a cruelty-free version of almost everything, that vegans can feel more comfortable putting their money towards.
*Short answer: yes, it is. The goal of veganism is to not harm animals in the process of consuming– using animal products supports the (to vegans, cruel) arrangements needed to acquire these products. Human semen is produced ethically, consensually, and without harm, thus it’s in the clear. Besides, if we were to follow the logic that human semen isn’t vegan, that would make human saliva and kissing off-limits too. But nobody asks about that.
**Nonoxynol-9 is in pretty much every OTC spermicide in the U.S. It can kill HIV, chlamydia, and gonorrhea, but it breaks down healthy tissue as easily as it kills pathogens. The small lesions N-9 can cause in mucus membranes actually make infection more likely. Many women use N-9 spermicides without problems, but it does cause yeast and bacterial infections or otherwise irritation in others.