An article in a British publication elicited interesting discussions among reproductive health and medical sociologists. The British teens “conceptualised” condom that changes colour when exposed to a sexual transmitted disease (STD) in intercourse.
Their condom design, quirky as it sounded, seemed to address one of the emerging reproductive and sexual health conundrums facing youth and sexually active adult populations: unknown risk of STDs amongst sexual partners amidst a declining usage of condoms during sexual intimacy.
A while ago, Global Grand Challenges, an innovative approach that grant funds to projects seeking to tackle emerging or persisting global health issues, also ran a contest on revolutionary ideas around contraceptives.
Submitted entries had catchy titles like, ‘Hacking the next generation of youth friendly condoms’, ‘Documenting future male contraceptive preferences’, ‘Subjective expectations and demand for contraception’, among others.
For all available contraceptives, none comes close to the condom in its dual qualities of contraceptive efficacy and safety profile scores. Yet, despite this superiority over other methods, condoms face an obstacle in having two diametrically opposed and competing properties: superior safety that also apparently “dampens” pleasure for some of its users.
To tackle this, the innovation challenges need to ask, “How do we make condoms sexy again?”
As a starting point, one has to know whether the downside of condom use is a subjective experience or an objective one from a user assessment. Many of the submissions sought to redesign and think around a more socially acceptable and “palatable” condom, from “why isn’t it being used”.
From an economic perspective, the importance of good condom use behaviour cannot be overemphasised.
The cost savings on the health system from expenditure in management of STDs, unplanned pregnancies, abortions and associated resultant complications as well as HIV management in an underfunded health sector are not little.
As potentially avoidable costs, savings here would go a long way to fund other needy healthcare intervention areas.
Understanding the reasons behind the declining condom usage is crucial and not just from a medical perspective but also a behavioural one.
Society’s shift from viewing sex as a procreating and matrimonial activity to a recreational, pleasurable and acceptance as a commercially tradable one is core in solving this.
Observations from a rural and urban reproductive health practitioner shows for instance that the female condom as a product is dead on arrival: it ranks amongst the most expired commodities in such health facilities.
What we need to do is design condoms with a focus on making them more pleasurable, for all partners.
A review of some of the condoms in the market shows there is an improving marketing theme around selling them for their pleasurable side of design. Marketing firm, DKTs range of condoms in particular, come with a quirky marketing approach that may resonate well, especially with teens.
Publicly distributed free condoms need to follow suit.