Condom maker targets gay men
by Matthew S. Bajko
Since the start of the AIDS epidemic the main strategy gay men have utilized to prevent their becoming infected with the HIV virus is to use a condom.
That advice is not always adhered to for a variety of reasons. For some, fumbling around in the dark trying to put on a rubber can be a mood killer in the heat of the moment. Others dread the embarrassment of putting the penile sheath on wrong.
The maker of a new brand of condoms believes it has solved that issue. The Florida-based Grove Medical LLC is marketing Sensis Condoms with QuickStrips as having "fast, safe application technology."
The condoms come attached with pull-down strips the company argues makes them easier and more accurate to put on. The back of each latex condom also has a simple 1-2-3-step picture diagram of how the clear plastic strips work.
The company argues the design eliminates the need to "flip" a condom in order to figure out which way it should be applied, thus diminishing the risk it will be soiled. It also argues that the strips help men correctly apply the condoms even in the dark or if they are intoxicated.
"If we can eliminate those problems, we can make the experience better for all involved," said R. Beau Thompson, who came up with the idea for the strips and patented them. "What we are about is making life better through technology. If we can improve it, and still stay safe, hey, it is a beautiful thing."
While Thompson is straight and conceived of his condom concept during a particularly frustrating interlude with a female sexual partner, his company is targeting gay men as it fights for market share in the $250 million prophylactic business. The blue packaging for Sensis' two types of condoms – thin lubricated and sensitive micro-dot-ribbed – uses colored, squiggly-lined images of couples that could be heterosexual or homosexual.
"If you put the dot-ribs and thins boxes together the Kama Sutra figures dance together," said Thompson. "What sexuality should be all about is fun. It is an enjoyable experience; it is what we hope our box is."
Considering all the technological advances that have reshaped society in the last three decades, it is somewhat astounding to think that condoms have changed relatively little during that time. What also hasn't changed is the gripes many gay men have about using them.
"I think some of the research and anecdotal information I have heard about shows that, outside of condoms not being available at the moment of having sex, sometimes it becomes difficult to negotiate for a variety of reasons, whether because of drug taking or just lack of skill in putting it on," said Ernest Hopkins, the San Francisco AIDS Foundation's legislative director.
It is a problem health officials have had to contend with in promoting the "condom code." Without a cure for AIDS or an effective HIV vaccine, the best weapon of choice in the fight against AIDS remains a simple see-through piece of latex.
Faced with this condom conundrum, health officials have tried to find solutions. Earlier this year San Francisco officials launched a campaign advising gay men to use female condoms during anal sex as an alternative to the male condom.
Condom companies have also searched for ways to make their product more palatable to men. Durex is developing condoms lined with a gel to help with erectile dysfunction.
Ostensibly geared toward older gentlemen, the "Viagra condoms" could prove marketable to gay men who use party drugs that impact their ability to maintain an erection.
"A lot of guys don't use condoms because they lose their erection. Well, a condom that enhances your erection puts a different twist on that problem," said Hopkins. "These condoms have a little oomph factor to them. I thought that was a brilliant idea."
With condoms the best defense against a multitude of STDs, they are likely here to stay for the foreseeable future.
"You will always need some sort of sheet, always need some sort of physical barrier," said Thompson. "We are trying to make a difference and to make the experience better so you don't interrupt the moment when putting on a condom."