2012-05-23

Co.Exist

A New Condom To Keep The Developing World Having Safe Sex

The L Condom company is designed to deal with condom shortages in the countries where birth control and AIDS prevention is most needed, and to make safe sex easier and more fun for everyone involved.

Talia Frenkel didn’t mean to become a social entrepreneur. She was living the kind of life magazines write about: photographing disaster zones for the Red Cross and other nonprofits. On trip after trip, she began to notice a disturbing lack of condoms in the countries she visited. According to the Office of the U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator, nine out of 10 African countries with high HIV prevalence go through what’s called a condom stock-out--when stores simply run out of condoms--with stock-outs commonly lasting over two months. Those stockouts can be caused by a number of things, including poor planning, funding, or logistical problems.

“That was when I got angry,” says Frenkel. “HIV is a preventable disease, and I believe that access to condoms is a basic human right.” She decided to start a woman-focused social enterprise and harness the one-for-one model (buy one and one gets donated overseas) employed by other companies.

That company, L Condoms, will begin shipping its product this summer. Over the past four years, Frenkel has worked to make changes in condom materials, manufacturing, and distribution to make condoms better. According to the company, if contraception were broadly available in poor countries, more than 50 million unwanted pregnancies could be averted every year. The resulting decline in unintended pregnancies would bring down costs related to maternal and newborn care by $5.1 million.

When Frenkel started doing research into condoms and innovation, she felt stymied by the available offerings. “I knew that going into a condom aisle as a woman, there was no innovation in the condom industry. Just the branding, the look and feel, has a kind of a false male bravado. It doesn’t resonate with a modern feel of sexuality.”

L Condoms try to improve the materials as well as the distribution. The condoms are manufactured in Malaysia, where natural latex is produced and purified to cut down on the smell. They use new lubricants that are free of glycerin and parabens, which Frenkel says have been shown to cause urinary tract infections. The foil is square instead of rectangular, which puts less strain on the condom itself. All the packaging is simple and recyclable.

Working from offices in San Francisco and Los Angeles, Frenkel has teamed up with relief organizations in Uganda to begin distributing condoms immediately to high-risk areas. “We’re starting with the high-impact areas where condoms are needed immediately, because there’s a high HIV rate and little or no access to condoms. In many places, women sell sex for less than the price of a condom. So there we’re just distributing them freely, with peer-to-peer education.”

The condoms are also being distributed to women-owned enterprises who sell them for affordable prices, creating sustainable livelihoods.

Frenkel is also working with sororities, fraternities, and co-ops in the U.S. to sell monthly condom subscriptions. For each condom bought, one will be donated to students in African universities. “I really wanted to focus on the idea of one-for-one, but we also wanted to provide a better product than what’s out there.”

Add New Comment

11 Comments

  • mathchallenged

    "Preventing 50 million unwanted pregnancies only saves $5.1 Million in costs related to maternal and newborn care?"

    That's only 10 CENTS per unwanted pregnancy.

    Is maternal and newborn care really that cheap there?

  • Eduardo Lugo Rodríguez

    Ok, so you give people condoms. Now you have to educate them about the benefits of using condoms and ultimately convince them to use condoms even when many could say it provides a different or 'not so pleasant' feeling.

  • Guest

    Shame on you for not doing your homework! If you did, you'd see that since this company started nearly two years ago, not one condom has been distributed to customers or in African communities. This is all good and dandy in theory, but nothing has come to fruition...

    This is not a new approach, Sir Richard's condoms has been doing this successfully for a couple years...

  • Trilano

    Its really a good iniative. However, having lived most of my life in Africa there is a problem...most Africans will not use condoms at all, even when they are given them for free. So throwing condoms at them will not help. A paradigm shift is required to change attitude...and unfortunatley we know that any paradigm shift is very difficult to achieve.

  • Jessica Bates

    I'm really excited to hear what happens next with this company and the
    direction it's going. It's so refreshing to see a one-for-one model that
    involves community empowerment, sustainability, and a greater plan in
    general. It's also great to see on-the-ground, innovative solutions being put to work in developing communities. Great job L!

  • Johnny B.

    found this story on twitter, then went to their website. seems legit.  i appreciate that they've taken the time to do their homework and plan the product all the way from the latex being tapped sustainably to the donated condoms being put in the hands of the right local groups.  that's the way 1 for 1 should always work.

  • jwollis

    Love the concept. How refreshing to hear entrepreneurs tackling social problems in the third world with an innovative product. I toast to your success.

  • marcswing

    Birth control is all about sexual education even in developed countries.  Pass them out by the truck load.  Just because you are a parent, it doesn't mean you know how to raise a healthy child.

     

  • NoahGreener

    good to see a one-for-one company taking a thoughtful approach to production and distribution. just goes to show this model can have a positive impact when done right. 

  • Guest

    how refreshing to read about a woman-owned condom company with tangible benefits at home and abroad!