The Challenge of Marketing Small Condoms

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There are products where smallness is a marketing virtue, like cellphones or thong underwear. But small condoms are a marketing nightmare. If advertising is about creating consumer desire, who aspires to a size extra-small?

The result is a condom aisle at the drug store where all the men, a la Lake Wobegon, are "above average." But the status quo may have dire public health implications.

According to the medical journal Sexually Transmitted Infections, 45 percent of men reported that they had experienced an ill-fitting condom within the last three months.

The misfits were significantly more likely to report breakage and slippage, along with difficulty reaching orgasm, both for their partners and for themselves, and a host of other sexual mishaps. Not surprisingly, men with ill-fitting condoms were more likely to take them off before sex was even over -- all of which adds up to a massive failure for the one job a condom exists to fulfill.

Aside from a realistic range of sizes, there is a dizzying amount of condom variety. A non-exhaustive list: ribbed, for her/his pleasure, studded, lubricated, extra thin, scented, textured, unscented, flavored, extended pleasure, colored, with/without spermicide, glow in the dark, lamb skin, warming. But aside from the machismo-imbued "Magnum" designation, you'd be hard-pressed to find any size labels. What's a modestly endowed guy to do? And perhaps more importantly, are the condom manufacturers being irresponsible by not being transparent in their sizing? Do they even make small condoms?

In fact, there is some size variation in condoms, but it's couched in jargon. LifeStyles has by far the most direct code, called "Snugger Fit." Here is a sizing chart for Durex condoms.

Trojan seems to have recalibrated its sizes a la Starbucks (and there is something appealing, if patronizing, about the idea of buying a "Tall" condom when in fact it's the opposite). The company organizes its products by Regular, Large, and Extra Large. Ah, so the regular is actually a small? Wrong. The regular is actually regular -- 35 of their 42 lines fall under this category -- not exactly following the bell curve.

Buying condoms online neatly sidesteps this entire mess, though even on the ostensibly private and shame-proof internet, a comparison of the smaller condom selection vs. the large condom offerings is instructive. But condoms tend to be unplanned, impulse buys -- hence the rather limited number of bulk purchases, despite considerable savings and a condom's 3-5 year lifespan.

So what's to be done? It's tricky territory. TheyFit Condoms offers seventy different sizes (none of which are labeled "small"), and guarantees a "custom" condom. But in order to enjoy that superlative fit, you'll have to measure, and carefully at that. The site thoughtfully warns, "Watch out for paper cuts!"

Spray-on condoms seemed promising, but the latex doesn't dry quickly enough for the understandably impatient consumer. Dr. Bill Yarber, of the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction in Indiana, recommends re-labeling small condoms as "large", regular as "extra-large" and so on. But this would require some sort of industry standard and an overhaul of the current condom lines, all without letting the public in on their new sizing policies. Additionally, Yarber's plan would have the true-to-life Magnum man in a pinch: his previously large-enough condoms would suddenly be a tight fit.

Ultimately, if men want a condom that fits -- and it's much more about girth than length, if that helps -- then they'll have to band together and demand more accurate sizes from the condom companies. At the very least it should make for one heck of a protest.

(Image: israelavila/flickr)

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Menachem Kaiser is a Fulbright Fellow in Lithuania.

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