A Condom Company Has a Plan for World-Changing Sex
TakePart columnist Sara Mohazzebi highlights the founders and stories behind socially conscious product lines that benefit communities in need. From children’s education to women’s empowerment, clean water, and more, we’re curating products that let you purchase everyday items and handcrafted artisan gifts that have an impact on the livelihood, health, and well-being of so many around the world.
While traveling the world as a photographer for the Red Cross, Talia Frenkel saw firsthand how women in developing countries had little to no reproductive rights or access to sex education. More than 36 million people around the world are living with HIV, and nine out of 10 countries in Africa have no way to get condoms for two to three months at a time because of low supply levels, according to UNAIDS. If condoms are available for sale, they are often more expensive than solicited sex, so few choose to purchase them.
Frustrated that millions of lives could be saved by allowing something as simple as condoms to be obtainable, Frenkel returned to San Francisco and founded L. Condoms. She set out with three goals in mind: to create a business that gives back to communities in need; to empower women through employment, helping them gain financial independence; and to ensure the condoms remained toxin-free by using high-grade latex. In 2013, her vision became real with the launch of her first set of products. To date, the company has worked with more than 2,800 female health care professionals in Swaziland and Uganda and has donated more than 1 million condoms.
Below, Frenkel, 30, shares with me her triple-impact solution of safe sex and financial empowerment and why her life’s purpose now is enabling world-changing sex.
TakePart: You spent a good portion of your 20s working in disaster zones as a Red Cross photojournalist. When was the moment you knew that you had to switch from being a photographer to founding L. Condoms?
Talia Frenkel: As a Red Cross photographer, I was shooting so many different kinds of disasters, but what struck me was when I was assigned to photograph HIV and AIDS. Unlike other disasters, both are completely preventable diseases. This is the No. 1 killer of women my age worldwide. Ultimately, condoms are the most effective technology in HIV/AIDS prevention as well as a simple form of birth control that provides greater quality of life. I knew that what needed to change was access to condoms with a sustainable distribution plan. More access to condoms means more family planning, more protection from sexually transmitted diseases, more students staying in school, and more opportunity to break the cycle of poverty. When I came back to the States, I saw a lack of innovation on the market, and I knew the technology existed to make a better product, so I made it. Now L. Condoms works with partners on the ground to take a holistic approach to promoting correct condom usage.
TakePart: L. Condoms has a unique one-to-one model. What is the specific impact when purchasing L. Condoms?
Frenkel: Currently, L. Condoms partners with Direct Relief International and works with female-run social-enterprise programs. For every L. Condom you buy, we give condoms to a female entrepreneur from an area of need in Swaziland or Uganda, and we train every one of them as a health care worker. Once they have the condoms, they go to a high-impact area with high levels of HIV and AIDS, with little to no access to condoms. They then teach the community how to use them and sell them at a sustainable low cost.
We also have a partnership with Student for Students, a program dedicated to increasing condom access and sex education to students in Africa, as they are very at risk to contracting HIV in sub-Saharan Africa. Just like youth in the U.S., by the age of 20, eighty percent of sub-Saharan African youths are sexually active. We want to give them the same universal protection and access that most kids in the U.S. have.
TakePart: L. Condoms has won several awards for the product itself. What makes L. Condoms stand out from other condoms on the market?
Frenkel: I believe that at the end of the day, nobody wants to compromise on their sex lives. This is a thoughtfully made product that’s good for your health. We’re making a toxin-free condom that’s glycerin- and paraben-free. It’s PETA-certified and vegan. What makes condoms irritating is that most latexes usually have proteins, and we have 90 percent less with ours, and we’re additive-free. Also, you’re helping a woman and protecting the environment at every stage of the process, as we provide fair wages at our manufacturing plants. Our condoms are also upcycled, and we have recyclable packaging for our boxes.
TakePart: Your latest video campaign is about men who “give a f--k.” What’s your goal in promoting L. Condoms in this way?
Frenkel: Our first video, “A Call to Good Men,” went viral recently, and this is a play on that. I want to destigmatize condom use and stop shaming girls about this topic worldwide. I want this to be a product that men who are feminists would be proud to use and women won’t feel taboo about carrying. Safe sex is a human rights movement.
TakePart: What are words you live by?
Frenkel: Gloria Steinem once said, “The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.”
I was, and still am, pissed off that the top killer of women my age is easily preventable. I’m pissed off that girls don’t have access to simple personal care products and that it stops them from attending school and taking ownership of their reproductive health. It’s our challenge to channel the anger that arises from these problems in a productive way. When that happens, when we find an opportunity to give in that way, there is nothing I know to be more liberating.
L. Condoms can be purchased online or via Amazon and at CVS, Target, and Whole Foods. For customers in Brooklyn, New York, and San Francisco, one-hour bike delivery is available. You can also enter for a chance to win five boxes of L. Condoms.