Could changing the way teens see condoms help save their lives?
That’s what the Center for African Studies, an international NGO based in Nairobi, is hoping. The group is spearheading a new campaign, “Pop Art Condoms,” to raise money for a line of condoms that will be packaged with artwork from a popular Kenyan artist. They’re soliciting donations to fund the effort on the crowdfunding site Indiegogo.
“In Kenya, many youth are scared of buying condoms from public vendors because they do not want to be seen as sexually promiscuous. It is assumed that sex is for married people only, yet the majority of youth in Kenya are young couples,” the Indiegogo site explains. “At the same time, the condoms available are either boring and of low quality or unaffordable to the majority of youth. This new line of condoms will be affordable, innovative, and marketable.”
Genevieve Imbali, the Center for African Studies’ communications and marketing officer, told CNN that the campaign is intended to help eliminate some of the stigma that’s currently attached to condoms. The pop art condoms are specifically designed to obscure what’s inside, so teens will feel more comfortable purchasing them.
An estimated 1.6 million people in Kenya are living with HIV/AIDS, a disease that kills about 57,000 people in the country every year. But the research in the field confirms that many people aren’t practicing safe sex for the same reasons that Imbali cites. A 2009 study found that the embarrassment associated with buying condoms is the primary reason that Kenyan teens opt to have unprotected sexual relationships. The Kenyan Red Cross Society has been attempting to battle this issue for years.
Imbali and her colleagues hope to finally make some progress in this area. “Our condom line coupled with a innovative marketing and distribution strategy will break down social, economic, and social barriers preventing youths from accessing condoms,” Pop Art Condom’s page notes.
Issues with condoms aren’t specific to Kenya — globally, it’s estimated that just five percent of men use condoms regularly. Most of them say they avoid this barrier method because it makes sex less pleasurable. And teens often feel hesitant to insist on a condom because they’re worried about how their partner will react. Here in the United States, which has one of the highest rates of sexually transmitted infection in the developed world, annual efforts to promote condom use point out that treating STDs costs us billions of dollars each year.
The Center for African Studies isn’t the first organization to attempt to make condoms more appealing. Last year, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation offered $1 million to fund the “next generation condom,” encouraging inventors to submit designs for barrier methods that are easier and more pleasurable to use. They received over 800 submissions — most of which rely on materials other than latex to achieve a better fit — and are currently narrowing them down to a group of finalists who will receive $100,000 to start developing their ideas.