Condoms may have macho names like Trojan and Magnum, but some women are now taking the reins, hoping to appeal to women by making more environmentally friendly condoms that purport to serve the greater good.
Conventional condom aisles “scream sex,” said Meika Hollender. “They are bold, bright and male oriented.”
So Hollender, 26, is poised to go a different route by marketing a sustainable brand of condoms in May.
“While women are buying condoms, they are not doing it very happily,” she said. “Even though we are a big part of the market, we don’t use them when having sex.”
Sustain Condoms, made of latex described by the company as non-toxic and produced in a rubber plantation in India with fair-trade and fair-wage credentials, are certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, and carry the slogan, “Do what’s natural.”
Hollender is a graduate of New York University’s Stern School of Business, and her father and business partner, Jeffrey Hollender, 59, is the founder of the green products company Seventh Generation in Burlington, Vt.
Condoms, once hidden behind the counter, have now moved to the feminine product aisles, reflecting women’s new interest.
“We know from talking to buyers at major retail stores and drugstores where condoms are sold that women are a significant part of the market,” said Jeffrey Hollender.
“Part of the challenge we are facing is the huge discomfort women feel buying condoms,” he said. “If a man buys them, he’s having sex and he’s cool. Women have a negative attitude.”
The Hollenders said that women are looking for more natural products with less exposure to chemical additives. They want to be able to see the ingredients on condom labeling and decide for themselves. Some condoms can contain harsh additives such as glycerin, paraben and spermacides, which can irritate the vagina.
“We will list all the ingredients that go into the manufacturing of the product on our website,” said Hollender.
Condoms made of natural latex are not wasteful, which is better for the environment, according to the Hollenders.
Many condoms today are made from synthetic materials because of concerns about allergies to latex.
Popular brands like Trojans are made out of a variety of synthetic and natural materials.
The company said in a statement to ABCNews.com: “The Trojan Brand takes rigorous steps and precautions to ensure that our users are getting the best quality condoms from a brand trusted over 90 years and their safety and pleasure is at the forefront of each of our innovations. It’s important to note that the US FDA has strict rules about manufacturing standards for medical devices such as condoms. Trojan condoms have a decades-long history of safe use, and for many consumers are the best choice for prevention of unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections.”
The Food and Drug Administration regulates the manufacture of both latex and synthetic condoms to ensure ingredients are safe and the product is effective for both birth control and helping to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.
The Hollenders join other condom producers in the crunchy marketplace, catering to consumers who are willing to change their lifestyle to be green.
San Francisco-based L Condoms boasts that they are made of “sustainably-tapped latex … vegan and not tested on animals … low in protein and scent and packaged in recycled materials.” They even have a one-hour delivery service and their condoms are delivered locally by bicycle in an unlabeled black box.
Founded by Talia Frenkel, a photojournalist who said she witnessed the effects of HIV/AIDS in Southeast Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe and the Middle East, the company’s marketing motto is: “better condoms = better sex.”
In a recent promotion online, L Condoms shows a romantic “good man” in a forest luring women with his social consciousness.
“L conjures up the right things in the female and the male imagination — love and lust,” Frenkel told ABCNews.com.
“It was shocking to me when I came back to the U.S. and saw the lack of innovation in the condom market,” she said. “This was an opportunity to make something different.”
Frenkel said the company “purifies” its latex to avoid the most common complaints about condoms: “They are physically irritating, uncomfortable and they dry out and smell bad.”
Like the Hollenders, she said L Condom was targeting female buyers.
“Most condom purchases are made by women and they are being ignored in the condom aisle,” said Frenkel. “Sex looks like an act of war. It doesn’t resonate with modern men or women.”
L Condoms, which can be found at CVS, says it donates one condom to Third World HIV/AIDS prevention programs for every condom purchased in the United States.
If the two companies’ marketing strategies are successful in making women feel more comfortable buying condoms, it could help reverse the trend of condom use going down in the United States.
According to a 2012 National Health Statistics Report, 62 percent of women of reproductive age use birth control and the most preferred methods are the pill and sterilization. Condom use declined from 20 percent to 16 percent between 1995 and 2006 to 2010.
“The decrease in condom use was largest among teenagers,” according to the report. In women aged 15 to 19, condom used dropped from 36 percent to 20 percent in the same time period, the report said.
Meika Hollender said she wants to reverse that trend by appealing to millennial women and their values with her company’s Sustain condom.
She said she hopes to address a myriad of world issues — population increase, climate change, poverty, hunger and fair trade.
“I wanted to choose an issue that would resonate with my generation and with women,” she said.
Statistics show sexually transmitted diseases, especially HIV/AIDS, are on the rise, with the greatest increases among women and young people.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 1.1 million Americans aged 13 and older are living with an HIV infection, including about 200,000 whose infections have not been diagnosed. The number of new infections among men aged 13 to 24 who have sex with men has jumped by 22 percent, says the CDC. Nearly two-thirds of all new infections are among Latino and black women.
“The AIDS crisis has fallen in the background,” Meika Hollender said. “People really don’t see HIV and STDs as a big a threat.”
Another carrot on the stick is the Hollenders’ pledge to divert 10 percent of the company’s future sales to women’s reproductive and family planning care in their nonprofit arm, 10%4Women, which will be run by Meika and her mother, Sheila Hollender.
“We don’t want to just donate products,” Meika Hollender said. “There’s an educational gap if we just hand out condoms. We want to complete the whole circle providing education and the product.”
Soon, women can find Sustain in stores like Whole Foods, she said.
“Our mission is to be a positive force in society — that’s the way I was raised,” said Hollender, who grew up in both New York City and Vermont. “Ten years ago if you’d ask me if I’d be a condom salesman, I’d say, ‘Probably not.'”