“How many of you have purchased condoms in the last week? Raise your hand.” I asked this to an auditorium full of brand new graduate students. Suddenly, everyone woke up and the room was filled with nervous energy and intermittent chuckles.
It was the new cohort’s first day of school, and as a second-year student, I was presenting what I’d spent my summer working on after completing a year in our Design For Social Innovation program at SVA.
In Design For Social Innovation, we are taught that the design process starts with getting to know a culture well enough to develop key insights: those core truths that can be opportunistically leveraged to help solve a problem. I’d spent that summer becoming very familiar with American women’s attitudes about safe sex, and how those attitudes influence their sexual health.
I proceeded to tell the class about how my discoveries had inspired me to start a social enterprise called Lovability Condoms, after developing two key insights:
Condoms aren’t a part of positive conversations.
Modern media has encouraged women to openly express their sexuality in many positive ways. In general, women have become quite accustomed to explicitly sexual content. However, sexual safety remains a hyper-clinical or menacing subject that is preferably avoided. Nonetheless, 30 percent of American girls will get pregnant before the age of 20. Also, according to the CDC, one in every four sexually active adolescent females has an STD…and these numbers are predicted to exponentially rise.
Condoms are stigmatized.
Women often feel uncomfortable associating with condoms because of the macho/dominant or hyper sexualized stereotypes that are linked with them. These negative attitudes have prevented women being prepared with condoms. According to a research study conducted at UCLA, if more women were prepared with condoms, rates of STD contraction and unplanned pregnancy would decrease substantially.
So, we're overhauling the long-standing cultural barriers and stereotypes that prevent women from being prepared with condoms. My first step was redesigning the packaging, distribution model, and messaging for this product so that the entire process of purchasing, carrying, and providing condoms fits seamlessly into a woman’s lifestyle.
As I worked tirelessly to scale my company, something phenomenal happened though. I started receiving countless emails and calls from women expressing their die-hard passion for my mission of improving women’s relationship with condoms and empowering others to take responsibility for their sexual health. Women wrote pages documenting how their discomfort with condoms had negatively affected them and their loved ones’ lives. They wanted to help others and be a part of “the movement” to de-stigmatize condoms. This new insight that women wanted to get actively involved had great influence over my design process.
Particularly, it resulted in transforming Lovability from a product…to a movement. I set out to redesign everything with the intention of empowering all women to play a significant role in our shared mission.
Firstly, I developed a program so that women could become “Lovability Ladies” and essentially take on a brand advocate and merchandiser role. These women have the opportunity to sell Lovability Condoms in their local community and spread the celebratory message that practicing safe sex is one of the most powerful forms of self-love. We’ve also given sororities and nonprofits the opportunity to do this on a larger-scale and donate the profits to philanthropies.
To complement the condom brand and Lovability Lady program, I launched the LovabilityMovement.com, which serves as a social hub for all women to express and practice holistic self-love. We are highlighting women who practice self-love in all ways, as well as promoting and celebrating women who openly share the way that safe sex practices have helped them lead a healthy life. Through the website, we also amplify the voices of Lovability Lady merchandisers who share their personal experiences as they spread the Lovability Condoms mission and message. This way, women who are indirectly involved can celebrate, support and interact with the women who are taking a very pro-active role in de-stigmatizing this product.
Since the day I introduced my summer’s work in DSI’s auditorium, Lovability has transformed into so much more than a condom brand. This is because in SVA’s Design For Social Innovation program, we are taught to continually listen for insights. Social issues and user needs are constantly evolving, and our job is to be attuned to those changes and design solutions accordingly.
Now, Lovability is a community open to all women who understand the value of safe sex practices and want to encourage others to do the same. Together, we will co-create whatever else is needed to bring safe sex into a positive context and empower all women to take responsibility for their sexual health.
Join the movement at www.TheLovabilityMovement.com to get involved.
Learn more about Lovability Condoms and The Lovability Lady program at www.LovabilityCondoms.com.