As a woman, it sometimes feels like I need a field guide to buying condoms. Placed in a far corner next to pink packages of pregnancy tests, navigating the aisle is intimidating. They come in different colors, scents, and textures, but aren’t packaged or advertised in a way that makes women feel empowered—or god forbid, sexy—buying them.
But with the creation of Lovability, founder Tiffany Gaines hopes to revolutionize the condom industry. During her graduate school program in social entrepreneurship at New York University, the 24-year-old began asking how women’s relationship with condoms can improve. According to Lovability, less than 19 percent of sexually active single women between the ages of 15 and 44 consistently use condoms. A study conducted at UCLA revealed if more women carried condoms, more couples would use them (PDF). Gaines set out to create a product that would empower women to purchase, carry, and, most importantly, use condoms.
“We’re trying to come at it as real young women who see an issue that needs to be solved,” Claire Courtney, Lovability’s Director of Outreach, says. “We’re here to say something to a larger industry and disrupt it.”
Launched in June 2013, Lovability aims to make condom purchasing feel simple and enjoyable in retail environments like boutiques and lingerie stores—places where women already feel comfortable and sexy. And the packaging doesn’t even look like it holds condoms. Tucked in a handbag or a drawer, Lovability tins appear to contain lip-gloss or hand cream. There’s no embarrassment if the tin falls out of a purse or is spotted in a nightstand.
Lovability also stands out for its quality. The one-size only condoms are vegan, sustainably produced, and come from a fair labor rubber plantation where the rubber is packaged onsite and then converted into triple tested condoms. The brand aims to make its 100 percent latex condoms as fresh as possible so that they lack the fermented rubber smell that other condoms have.
“We just want condoms to be lovelier,” Courtney said. “We try to make it so women don’t have to feel any shame.”
In hopes of expanding worldwide, Lovability, which is only in New York lingerie stores at the moment, created an ongoing Indiegogo campaign with gifs and statistical graphics designed by Gaines. With its team of feminist innovators, Lovability is much more than an entrepreneurial project—it hopes to create conversations about our culture’s opinion of condoms. In order to create condoms that women want, the Lovability team holds focus groups and meets with friends. They’ve also interviewed men and have asked their perception on condom use and women who carry them. The responses have been incredibly positive, according to Courtney.
Though the team enjoys convincing new retailers to sell Lovability in their stores, generating excitement hasn’t always been easy. Various stores have turned down Lovability because they don’t want to offend their customers with a product thought of as “naughty.” Lovability takes an extra step and opens a conversation with retailers about their concerns, and then tries to shape its product in a different light. Courtney said once they show the colorful tins to retailers and put it in women’s hands, they’re surprised.
In order for a product like Lovability to work, our culture must change its perception on condoms. Instead of making condoms “back shelf items,” they should be seen as tools of sexual health for both women and men.