OSTENSIBLY, it’s a good bet: be the first female-owned and operated condom company. Take back the bedroom from the fat cats like Trojan whose very slogan, “Trojan Man,” ignores the fact that sometimes it takes two, sometimes being a man and a woman, to copulate.
In the condom world, cocks rule the roost. Even Bill Gates is thinking of throwing his hat in the jimmy ring. But social entrepreneur, founder and CEO of L. Condoms, Talia Frenkel is bringing the chicks home to the hen house with a message that all women (and yes, men too) need to hear.
“If we want to support girls as agents of change,” she explains one morning over coffee, “we must provide them with the tools they need to survive.”
Her appearance, marked by a bright, festively ornate vest worn with black jeans and a broad smile, is cheery; her message is serious.
Talia graduated from college two years early and ventured out into the world as a photojournalist for the Red Cross, documenting disasters and humanitarian crises. Her work took her from New York to Paris, to Jerusalem and Cairo, South East Asia, and eventually to Africa where she was responsible for photographing the effects of HIV and AIDS in women and children.
On assignment she witnessed condom stock-outs and women unable to take control of their own health; women whose basic lack of access to contraception was killing them.
“We take advantage of the fact that we can pop into a convenient store and purchase condoms,” she says. “What I witnessed made me angry.”
[Define it: CONDOM STOCK-OUT: According to the Office of the U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator, 9 out of 10 African countries with high HIV rampancy experience what’s known as a condom stock-out, when stores simply run out of condoms, usually for over two months at a time.]
“I photographed and witnessed horrible tragedy,” she continues, “but unlike some of what I saw, this crisis, the fact that AIDS is the number one killer of women worldwide, is preventable.” She recognized a lack of infrastructure, and the compulsion for condom companies to please current customers, opting to not think outside the wrapper or the States, but for Talia there is no justification for such an obtuse disregard of life. She knows that condoms are a commodity, in many instances as important as clean water.
That’s when she started asking herself some very important questions, landing on the conclusion that “access to contraception, condoms specifically, is a basic human right.” Recognizing that, despite technological advances, the “most effective way to prevent HIV remains with a condom.”
So after years of being on-the-go, Talia left the Red Cross and returned home, worn down by what she had seen, but not disenfranchised. She was catalyzed by the need to channel the suffering she witnessed and internalized, in a productive way.
Which led to the creation of L. – a condom company with a cause, and the desire to support women both locally and globally by focusing on health, sexual awareness, and accessibility.
“Access to contraception, condoms specifically, is a basic human right.”
“I can’t think of an easier way to do good than to have good sex,” she explains with a persuasive smile. Talia is a woman who, beyond her brains and entrepreneurship, owns her sexuality and is unashamed to have that conversation– the one reserved for the bedroom or white men at podiums. Which leads to the next part of her message: Talia is committed to changing the conversation about sex.
“Why is it socially acceptable for a woman to be on birth control?” she asks, “But it’s shameful for a woman to walk down an aisle and purchase a box of condoms? We need to accept the fact that women are sexual beings, without shaming them.” Currently all forms of female birth control require a prescription.
According to Talia, condom companies messed up the messaging around sex a long time ago. Brands like Trojan and Magnum, insistent on hetero-heavy, myopic and oftentimes militarized branding, eliminated women from the conversation about sex. She suggests that there’s nothing round-table about the current culture surrounding sexuality, there’s no exchange, and is convinced that women’s health and well-being, both in the States and out, would benefit greatly from an open dialogue. “These brands don’t resonate with a modern sexuality,” she says. “And good men care about women’s bodies and women’s issues.”
Which is why she rigorously tested her condoms to not only make sure they feel good, but that they are non-toxic and use natural latex and lubricants that are free of parabens and glycerin. Plus if anyone finds themselves caught in an unprepared moment of L.ust, the company offers a one-hour bike messenger delivery service in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and most recently, New York.
As people fold into each other Talia wants her messaging to likewise absorb into the cultural psyche. To not only change the way we think and talk about sex—for example, there’s nothing wrong with being a “prepared”woman– but to also acknowledge the need to pay it forward. To make your sex count. For every L. Condom purchased in the United States, the company donates one condom to a person in the developing world.
Forget ostensible, Talia is spreading good love, good messaging, and bringing the chickens home with a bang, one L. condom at a time.