Women-led brands challenge the notion that condoms should be branded exclusively with male buyers in mind.
Condoms. To this day, they are the only contraceptive method that prevents against both sexually transmitted disease and unintended pregnancy. Yet, study after study shows their use is steadily on the decline, while STD rates are rising across many demographics.
Now, as intimate products from connected pelvic floor-monitors to digital fertility apps tear down taboos, a new wave of gender-neutral, sustainable, internet-friendly condom brands is betting that a user-friendly and design-savvy approach to condoms will give safer sex a boost.
In 2014, Meika Hollender, together with her father Jeffrey Hollender, co-founder of Seventh Generation all-natural cleaning products, launched Sustain Natural. The environmentally friendly line of condoms, femcare, and sex essentials prioritizes female pleasure and uses only ingredients that don’t harm the earth or women’s bodies.
Meika and her company are outspoken advocates for the need to de-stigmatize female sexuality, an initiative that begins with Sustain’s frank, female-first tagline, “think with your vagina” (other attention-grabbing calls to action include “orgasm organically”).
With the #GetOnTop campaign launched last year, the 30-year-old entrepreneur challenges girls and women to take control of their reproductive and sexual health, and how condoms can help. “40% of condoms are purchased by women and 70% of these women are uncomfortable making this purchase. It’s crazy,” says Hollender.
#GetOnTop taps an A-list roster including Refinery29 co-founder Piera Gelardi, Thinx founder Miki Agrawal, and MADE Fashion Week co-founder Jenne Lombardo—all of whom took a pledge to practice “safe sex.” The company then donated a condom to a woman in need for every pledge made. “We’re communicating that women should be proud of their sexuality,” says Hollender, “and with this feeling of pride tends to come responsibility.”
According to the CDC, most people report having used a condom the first time they had sex. In contrast, less than a quarter reported using a condom every time over the last four weeks.
It’s not surprising to learn, then, that in 2015 there were more cases of sexually transmitted diseases in the United States than ever before, according to federal data. Young people, members of racial minorities, and men who have sex with men were in the highest risk brackets. Notably, there has also been a surge in STDs among adults over the age of fifty.
“As a young woman when starting Sustain, and learning some of the devastating statistics surrounding women’s sexual health, I felt there was a need and a market opportunity to speak to women in this category,” says Hollender.
This realization catalyzed Sustain’s mission of making “vagina-friendly” products with women’s bodies in mind—no carcinogens, no spermicide, no irritating fragrances—and packaging and marketing them in inclusive way that appeals to women.
Two years after its launch, Sustain has wrapped a complete overhaul of its website, user experience and packaging, revealing a brighter palette and unabashed, sex-positive tone that heralds “sexuality as something to be proud of versus something that needs to be pushed under the rug.”
Maude, a modern sex essentials company on a mission to save us from “ugly packaging, outdated purchasing, and frankly, WTF messaging,” has recently debuted its playful, minimalist line of condoms, sex toys, wipes, and lubricant.
With its pared down aesthetic, retro sensibility, and Instagram-worthy product photography, Maude is a far cry from the macho lingo and bro-ey branding of your average condom brand. By creating an online experience that’s as intuitive, casual, and aesthetically pleasing as your favorite e-commerce site, Maude is redesigning the way we shop for, and ultimately think about, sex-related products—refreshingly free of sleaze and shame, not to mention toxic ingredients.
Eva Goicochea, co-founder of Maude, describes her brand’s typical customer as 25–40, urban, and a “considerate consumer”—“that is, they care about ingredients and design, form and function,” she explains. She draws inspiration from the 19th century, a time when feminists campaigned for alternative types of birth control in protest of the male-dominated condom industry.
“Our goal is to create a brand that can be carried by all—straight, gay, men, women, old, and young—because the truth is that all people have sex,” Goicochea says. By speaking to a unisex audience and improving the process of buying sex essentials, Maude hopes to reduce stigma and open up the market to more customers.
For more on new products shaking up attitudes toward sex and intimate care, see Vaginal Beauty.