Condoms Have Just Gotten a (Very Necessary) Makeover

A Canadian company is changing the way we view condoms—and encouraging more people to use them.

Lately, we’ve seen the much-needed evolution of a few sexual health essentials. Pregnancy tests have become less expensive and sustainable, birth control pills can be conveniently prescribed online, and period underwear has become a thing. The one item that has been left relatively un-updated has been the condom. But one Canadian company is addressing that.

“Condoms have a bad rap, and they really needed a makeover,” said Yasemin Emory cofounder of Jems—a freshly-launched condom brand that’s “made for a multiplicity of sex and gender expressions.” She founded the company, along with her business partner Whitney Geller, to offer a more inclusive condom option with the goal of encouraging more people to use them. “Condoms have been very male-dominant and hetero-dominant, and so we wanted to create a brand that would make everybody feel they’re who we’re talking to,” says Geller.

A recent study revealed Canadians use condoms only 30 percent of the time, and another study showed condom use decreases with age. While rates of sexually transmitted infections are down due to Covid, they’ve been increasing dramatically over the past decade and are predicted to increase once the pandemic ends and STI testing is more accessible again.

If nothing protects against STIs better than a condom, why aren’t more people using them? Emory and Geller believe it’s due to a lack of education and representation. Here’s how they’re hoping to change the way we view (and use) condoms.

Jems Condoms Op2Image: Jems

Condoms are everybody’s responsibility

As Samantha Bitty, a Toronto-based sexual health expert told Global News, “If the types of sex you’re having [aren’t] represented in the sex education you receive, you’re less likely to feel empowered to suggest safer sex methods.” With the condom aisle overwhelmed with “toxic masculinity,” as Geller puts it, the Jems founders aim to make all genders, binary and non-binary, feel represented to help more people recognize their importance in sexual health. “There are statistics around women not buying condoms as much as men and that’s obviously something we’d like to change,” says Emory. She’s right—a study by Trojan found among their participants, only one-third of condoms were purchased by women, 65 percent of women had never purchased condoms, and only 3 percent carried condoms on them. With Jems, Emory and Geller preach: “Everybody is responsible for themselves in terms of using protection.”

Influencing behaviour by design

How do you create a brand that makes all genders feel represented? Emory and Geller say it’s about the marketing. “Our background is in graphic design, so we really knew that through design, you can actually change behaviour,” says Geller. “If you design condom packages in a way that would speak to a different audience, you could potentially gain a different audience.” With juicy-bright hues, clean type, and minimal details, Jems looks similar to other millennial-founded brands, standing out from other options on the shelf and potentially speaking to a broader audience.

Made with minimal ingredients

Many condoms on the market include potentially harmful ingredients such as talc, benzocaine, nonoynol-9, and spermicide. “We have only included what’s absolutely essential,” says Geller. Jems condoms are made out of natural rubber latex and lubricated with silicone, and the ingredients are clearly labelled on each box and on the company’s website—which surprisingly isn’t often the case with other condom packages. “When we looked at other boxes, nowhere, for the most part, would tell you what was included,” says Geller. The founders say due to their minimal ingredient list, their condoms can help reduce the risk of allergic reactions.

Continuing sexual education

Studies show condom use is higher among those with higher education, people belonging to visible minorities, and men. “STI rates are up, unwanted pregnancies are up, and condom use is actually down, and there’s a younger demographic, in particular, that really needs to change the way they think about sex and the way in which they protect themselves,” says Emory. The founders will offer sexual education on their website and social channels for all sexes and genders “in a way that they’re not getting right now across schools,” says Geller. “We need to expand how we’re thinking about condoms—we want to teach people how to turn a condom into a dental dam, use it with a sex toy, or in other ways.”

Making condoms more accessible

“Our goal is to naturalize buying condoms so that it’s not taboo, uncomfortable, or awkward,” says Emory. “Hopefully, people will feel a bit proud buying condoms, not like it’s an uncomfortable thing anymore.” And that’s for people of all ages. “Parents tell us they feel awkward presenting teenagers with the condoms with words like ‘Magnum’ on it,” adds Geller. “The idea with Jems is that it would give a fresh way to have a lesson, a conversation with children, to change the way we all view and talk about sex.”

Next: What’s the Best Way to Switch Birth Control Pills?