Do you still find condoms embarrassing?

Annie Scott

It’s official. According to a recent Foundry Fox poll, your preferred contraception method remains… the faithful condom. 45% of the 1000 18-34-year-olds we polled say they rubber up.

And why not? This trusty friend is 98% effective and free from side effects like uncontrollable crying (anything hormonal) or unwanted pregnancy (rhythm method).

Yet it seems, even in these enlightened times, we’re still embarrassed buying the damn things. Or so says Sarah Welsh, doctor and co-founder of HANX, a female-focused condom brand.

“I was working in gynaecology and sexual health and seeing the rise of really difficult to treat STIs and unwanted pregnancies. Time and time again women were saying ‘I’m too embarrassed to carry a condom, I look promiscuous’. It was a real barrier – even for people who had previous infections. And these were educated women”.

Sarah and her business partner, Farah Kabir, identified a problem. Most condoms are aimed at men.

“We realised there were no condoms aimed at women – and most of the time it’s women who do the shopping and buy them. We surveyed 2000 professional women and found 85% felt they should be the ones carrying the condoms – and that 73% said they’d be much more comfortable buying a discreet product”.

Their research also showed – perhaps unsurprisingly – that men view women who carry condoms positively.

wesley quinn @ unsplash

“The men we surveyed thought women with condoms were responsible and looking after their bodies – and that it’s actually attractive that they care for themselves in that way”.

Sarah and Farah’s solution is HANX – a new breed of condom and a slick new model. Sharp white design and an elegant logo – think Apple rather than traditional garish gumball colours. They’ve created an online subscription model so you’re sent your monthly supply without having to think about it – or you can just order on Amazon. You’ll also find HANX in chic boutiques, Coco de Mer and WAH nails. No more red-faced trips to Boots, desperately seeking the self-checkout.

Yet there’s something about condoms that still feels a bit… basic. Like we’ve not really moved on from men chucking a pig’s bladder over their schlong and hoping for the best. With our poll showing a whopping 42% of you rely on the oral contraceptive pill, and the rise of tracking apps like Natural Cycles, are condoms still relevant?

Absolutely, says Sarah.

“Lots of people are ditching hormones and looking for natural choices – and obviously condom use is one of those”.

Although the pill remains popular, research suggests people are rejecting it. Sarah points to a World Health Organisation study (using data from 1990-2009) that found 40% of women who started taking the oral contraceptive pill stopped within a year because of side effects.

She also cautions against natural tracking apps as a contraceptive.

“They’re great for knowing your body – but as a doctor, I wouldn’t recommend them as a contraceptive. There are too many ways it can go wrong – even when they say you’re not so fertile you could still get pregnant. You’re playing with fire really”.

Our poll reveals a dwindling popularity in other traditional contraceptive methods too. Only 10% of you use an implant, and just over 1% have a coil fitted. It seems, for all the empowerment of the hormonal contraceptive revolution, condoms really are still the best solution.

They’re getting more sophisticated too. HANX have removed casein (an animal bi-product used in most condoms that can cause irritation in some women) from their product and use only Fair Trade materials. They’ve made them ultra thin to address issues with sensitive and even removed the weird rubbery smell.

Yet even with such a positive story, the embarrassment over johnnies isn’t restricted to us. Sarah has found retailers  – and even hotels – are still squeamish when it comes to sex.

“There’s a bit of pushback still. We’ve had a lot of interest from the US – they’re a lot more open. Whereas in the UK we’ve talked to a lot of retailers and hotels we think HANX would fit perfectly with, and they say “no, we don’t do that”. It’s so old school. You’ll always find a shower cap in hotel rooms – just put a condom in too! It’s not a big deal!”

Ultimately this is about re-framing the way we think about sexual health.

“We want people to think differently about sexual wellness. Women should feel empowered to look after their sexual health. We don’t need to go and talk to everyone about having sex. But we shouldn’t feel embarrassed. It’s a positive thing.

So, ladies – let’s be the change we want to see.  Carry your condoms with pride!

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