Tweet For many, with the arrival of Valentine’s Day, love of all kinds is on the mind. And for a number of those people, something a little more exciting is on the mind as well…
Oh, and also sex. (Though 64% of Brits admitted feeling more satisfied by a nice dessert than by sex on Valentine’s Day!)
And just in time for the holiday, I want to talk about something that can often be overlooked when people are a little too eager to get things going in the bedroom, especially on a day like today with such high ‘sexpectations’: condoms.
Love them or hate them, there is no doubt that condoms are one of the most effective forms of protection during sex, boasting an impressive 98% effectiveness rating when used properly (and 99.9% when combined with hormonal contraceptives!). Not only do they protect against pregnancy, but, unlike some other forms of birth control (i.e., hormonal), they also protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs). They’re effective, accessible, and affordable forms of protection. And they’re used by about 50-60% of adults and 68% of adolescents in the Canada. Wait – what?
Despite the myriad of benefits of condom use, they have a startlingly low usage rate. Beyond that, only 41% of those who claim to use condoms use them all the time. But, before we get into that, let’s take a quick look back on how far the development of the condom has come.
The first documentation of condoms is thought to be from about 3000 BC, in Homer’s Iliad, which talked about placing the bladder of a goat into a woman’s vagina to protect against disease. Nice. From there, the Ancient Egyptians used linen sheets, and the Ancient Romans used linen sheets in combination with animal intestines or bladders. Certain tribes in New Guinea used plant-based sheaths, while Chinese civilizations used silk papers with oil lubrication. Prior to the 19th century, animal-product condoms were all the rage (although you likely had to be a member of the upper class to get your hands on them).
Fast-forwarding to the 1920s, the invention of latex changed the condom game for good. The popularity of condoms skyrocketed in the 1980s during the devastating AIDS epidemic, when their use as both a contraceptive and a preventative measure against disease was more fully recognized. Today, latex condoms are highly durable and flexible, and can be lubricated, flavoured, ribbed, glow-in-the-dark – you name it. Yet despite these novelty advancements, the core structure of the condom – latex – has remained fundamentally uncontested since the 1920s. And no matter how ‘ultra-thin’ these condoms are advertised to be, many consumers still find that condom use is less pleasurable than condomless sex, and that using condoms ruins “the moment” in the bedroom.
Given the incredible rate of technological advancement in the world today, you’d think we’d be a little better at designing the condom, especially since failing to use condoms (and other forms of protection) can lead to sexually transmitted infections, other health risks, and unwanted pregnancies. So, in short – how far have we come in the development of a better condom? Unfortunately, not very.
And it’s not for lack of trying - believe it or not, we’ve had some of the biggest minds on the matter. In 2013, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation put out a call for a redesigned, ‘next-generation’ condom, boasting a cool $100 000 funding reward – with the potential for additional funding up to one million dollars. If that’s not enough to stimulate some great thinkers towards the cause, I’m not too sure what is.
The problem, as identified by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (and, undoubtedly, users of condoms worldwide) is that, simply put, using a condom just doesn’t feel quite the same as not using a condom. Despite ease of access, a cheap price tag, and the peace of mind that comes with protected sex, people still forgo condom use for the immediate pleasure of unprotected sex. The Foundation identified the top 11 innovative condom designs, which included condoms made from bovine tendons, collagen, polymers, and polythylene, condoms that tighten around the penis during intercourse for a better fit, condoms with applicator handles, and condoms made from nanoparticles (you can find the full list here: http://theweek.com/articles/455793/meet-11-condoms-future-selected-by-bill-gates). However, despite a host of new ideas, apparently the path to condom redesign is a lengthy one. Over three years have passed since the final 11 condoms were announced, and we’re still waiting. Unfortunately, it seems that design is only the first step – the process of FDA approval, marketing, and distribution can take years, but the demand for a better condom exists today.
Fortunately, with the prevalence of crowdfunding sites such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo, other independent condom innovators can seek funding from the general public in their quest for a new and improved condom. In the past year, Indiegogo hosted funding for the LELO HEX, a product advertised as “the world’s first re-engineered condom” leading the way into a new age of ultra-safe yet ultra-pleasurable sex, raising over $427 000 towards production. While still made of latex, the HEX condom is created using a hexagonal web structure, which, according to parent company LELO, allows it to “flex and mold to the uniqueness of the wearer” and maximize strength, while remaining even thinner than most competing brands, such as Trojan’s “Bare Skin” condom. The internal hexagonal web in the HEX condom is raised to prevent slippage from any penis or toy it is placed on. Supporters of the Indiegogo campaign (including SexLab!) all received HEX condoms, and what better way is there to test whether they’re really worth our while other than to give them a try? For science, obviously.
So, let’s jump right into it.
To be honest, I wasn’t expecting that much of a difference from the HEX condom. It’s still made of latex, and it’s not even the thinnest condom on the market (that honour goes to the Sagame 0.01). Yet overall, it was definitely pleasantly surprising. The marketing of the LELO HEX does not exaggerate. It’s easy to apply, doesn’t slide at all during sex, and feels almost completely non-existent (although not entirely – you still know that it’s there). It also felt completely safe – however, I might have been a little biased here, since I had read the background of the condom pretty thoroughly in advance.
It’s good, but is it good enough? I think that if I had to choose from a number of other brands of condoms, I would choose the HEX; it’s arguably one of the best condom experiences I’ve had so far. That being said, while it might become popular for condom users, I’m not sure it’s enough to encourage those who tend not to use condoms for whatever reason (“It just doesn’t feel the same!” “It ruins the moment!”) to start using them. It’s possible though, with some more marketing and exposure (and some rave reviews), that the HEX could help in making that leap. They may cost a little more, but the increased sensitivity and peace of mind that comes from using such a durable product is worth your while. In general, in terms of responsible, safe sex, the LELO HEX is a step in the right direction.
According to LELO, all the ‘talk’ about new, innovative condoms is good, but still just that – talk. By creating an innovative condom made from a pre-approved material (latex), LELO can get their product on the shelves and into the bedroom fast. Or, as they say it: “people need to be having great, safe sex today, not 10 years from now.” It may very well be worth the wait for a new condom design (let’s go, Bill Gates). However, there’s a lot of fun to be had before that time comes, and the LELO HEX condom provides a welcome improvement on other brands.
In the grand scheme of things, increasing condom distribution and making condoms more desirable and pleasurable to use can benefit more than just experimenting teens and college students or partners trying not to get pregnant. Worldwide, especially in countries stricken by diseases such as HIV/AIDS, condom use is undeniably life-saving. It’s comforting to know that there are intelligent developers and innovators working toward a new and improved condom, but until such a product is developed, put on the market, and gains some traction among the general population, we still have some ways to go. But at least we have condoms like the HEX to keep us company along the way.
For more information on the LELO HEX condom check out: https://www.lelo.com/hex-condoms-original
Mullin, G. (2016, February 11). Shock survey reveals how many couples will be having sex on Valentine’s Day. Mirror. Retrieved from: http://www.mirror.co.uk/lifestyle/sex-relationships/shock-survey-reveals-how-many-7350897
Weber, P. (2013, November 21). Meet the 11 condoms of the future selected by Bill Gates. The Week. Retrieved from: http://theweek.com/articles/455793/meet-11-condoms-future-selected-by-bill-gates
Taylor, J. (2015, November 18). 2 years later, here’s what happened to Bill Gates’ Condoms of the Future. Tech.Mic. Retrieved from: https://mic.com/articles/128850/bill-and-melinda-gates-foundation-condom-contest-where-are-they-now#.MwuVxyGSY
LELO. (2016). HEX Condoms. Retrieved from: https://www.lelo.com/hex-condoms-original
LELO. (2016). LELO HEX: The condom, re-engineered. Indiegogo. Retrived from: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/lelo-hex-the-world-s-first-re-engineered-condom-technology#/updates
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