How The Culture Surrounding Condoms Is Changing — Thanks To Women

by Laken Howard
Originally Published: 
A girl taking a condom from a table next to the bed where she is lying with her boyfriend
Ashley Batz/Bustle

Although condoms have certainly already come a long way from their earliest iterations (linen sheath condom, anyone?), there's still plenty of room left for innovation in the condom industry. As our sexual culture evolves, so do our needs when it comes to things like birth control and STI prevention — and because condoms play a huge role in both, it only makes sense that scientists and researchers are constantly working to invent the next big thing in the world of condoms.

The latest example of innovation in the condom industry comes courtesy of researchers at Boston University, who are working to invent a self-lubricating condom. By using UV light exposure to bind water-loving polymers to the surface of the latex (creating a coating of sorts), researchers were able to create a condom that becomes slippery when in the presence of a small amount of moisture, like water or vaginal fluids. The result? A condom that's low on friction, with no lube required.

The researchers also asked a small group of 33 people to feel and compare the new "slippery" condoms with other materials, and 85 percent said the polymer-coated condoms were indeed the slipperiest after coming into contact with water. Even better news? Of that same group, 73 percent said they would prefer to use condoms made of the new material — and several said having access to this kind of condom might increase their usage of condoms.

Even though this study is only one small sample, it's nonetheless promising to hear that, as condoms become more sophisticated and better suited to our needs, people might be more inclined to buy and use them. Because let's face it: condoms have gotten a pretty bad rap in the past — and it's time to change our relationship with our rubbery friends.

What's With The Stigma Surrounding Condom Use?

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If you've heard it once, you've heard it a hundred times: "I don't like using condoms because they make sex less enjoyable." Although sex with a condom might feel different than sex without a condom, the critique that condoms "ruin" sex is both unfair and untrue. Of course, there are plenty of folks for whom certain kinds of condoms actually are uncomfortable, but lumping all kinds of condoms together, and then writing them off, is dangerous.

"There’s an almost universal belief that condoms make sex less pleasurable," Davin Wedel, president of Global Protection Corp, parent company of ONE® Condoms, tells Bustle. "Of course people are aware of the risks of unprotected sex, but they’re often unwilling to sacrifice sexual pleasure for safety. That’s exactly why we invest so heavily in research and development and new manufacturing technologies: to create condoms that make safer sex more pleasurable."

Simply put, the outdated stigma that all condoms are uncomfortable or make sex less pleasurable is total BS — especially when you consider that no studies actually prove that sex with a condom is definitively worse than condom-less sex. When you also consider the fact that so many different kinds of condoms now exist — custom fit condoms, internal condoms, and soon, self-lubricating condoms — it's hard to imagine why someone would be averse to using condoms, yet many folks are... particularly straight men.

How Women Are Changing The Condom Industry

According to the SKYN Condoms 2018 Millennial Sex Survey of about 4,000 millennials, just over half of men (56 percent) said they use condoms "always" or "most of the time" during sex, and that figure is actually a 16 percent increase from the 2017 Millennial Sex Survey. But while men might be reluctant to reach for rubbers, according to Meika Hollender, co-founder and CEO of Sustain Natural — a company that makes natural, vegan, non-toxic tampons, pads, condoms, and more — women have no qualms when it comes to insisting on condom use.

"I think while the age old mantra 'it doesn't feel as good' is still alive and well, women in particular recognize that their sexual health is a critical part of their overall health and wellness and that's outranking this idea that it might not feel as 'good' (which for the record, research has yet to prove this!)," Hollender tells Bustle.

Because women are less willing to gamble with their sexual health, they're more willing to use condoms as a safeguard against things like unplanned pregnancy or STIs. According to a recent survey of 1,000 women by women-run reproductive care company LOLA, a large majority of single women use condoms regularly.

"We found that condoms are overwhelmingly the most popular form of birth control among women: over 80 [percent] of single women and nearly 40 [percent] of women in relationships said they use condoms," LOLA's co-founders, Jordana Kier and Alex Friedman, tell Bustle. "For too long, brands have dominated the sexual health market catering to heterosexual men’s desires, but that perspective excludes a huge population from the conversation."

Ashley Batz/Bustle

Gone are the days where stocking up on condoms was seen as the "man's duty" (in a relationship between a man and a woman, that is). Now, more women are taking the reins when it comes to their sexual health, and that includes buying condoms for themselves rather than relying on a male partner to have one when the time comes.

"When we started Sustain, women who carried condoms, for the most part, were worried they would be considered sluts, while men who did the same seemed like heroes... not any more," Hollender says. "With campaigns like #GetOnTop and our 2018 Out Of Home campaign about women taking their sexual health into their own hands (and buying and carrying condoms!), we are starting to see a shift in condom culture, particularly among women."

Thanks to progressive movements like LGBTQ+ rights, sex positivity, and feminism, conversations about sexuality and sexual health have been at the forefront in recent years, and it's clear that there's been a shift in how society, and women in particular, views sex. Pleasure isn't necessarily the top priority; now, "good" sex is sex that's consensual, mutually satisfying, and safe — which is why it's crucial that condoms keep evolving to suit people's needs.

Rethinking Condoms

As long as condoms exist, they're going to have critics; there's no getting around that. But there's also no denying that condoms play an integral role in safe sex for both parties — which is why it's crucial that the stigma that condoms equal bad sex is eliminated.

"Condoms are the only form of birth control that protect against HIV and STD/STIs — so they should always without question be used as primary or supplemental protection when you're having sex with a partner that you are not monogamous with," Hollender says. "And even if you are, make sure you are both regularly getting tested, and for that matter use a condom anyways because you can never be too safe."

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It's important to note that, because every individual has a different body and sex life, condoms aren't a universal "must" for safe sex — but where your sexual health is concerned, it's better to be very safe than remotely sorry. Thankfully, innovations in the condom industry (like the new slippery variety that's in the works) mean that condoms are only getting better and better — and as they evolve to be even safer and more pleasurable, it can only encourage folks to keep condoms in the rotation.

The ultimate goal, of course, is for every person who needs one to have access to at least one kind of condom that works well for them. Why? Because the better, more specialized condoms get, the likelier it is that more people will engage in safe sex practices. If one kind of condom doesn't work for you or your partner, it's important not to give up: try a different size, fit, or material and figure out what works best for your body and your sex life.

The bottom line? Nowadays, there's no shortage of choices when it comes to condoms, and there's no reason to write them off entirely — especially if that will put you in a risky sexual situation. Regardless of your gender or orientation, you should never be ashamed to buy condoms, carry condoms, or insist on condom use (even if your partner is reluctant). At the end of the day, your sexual health is the most important thing, so it's important to protect it to the best of your ability... and if that happens to include making condoms part of your sexual routine, then that's all for the better.

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