Hidden in the depths of Jewett lies the Campus Health Organization for Information, Contraceptives and Education (CHOICE) office, which houses nearly 50,000 different safer sex supplies, including condoms, dental dams and lube. CHOICE is a campus organization that believes that both safer sex and sexual health education is integral to creating a sexually healthy and informed student body.
Using an anonymous form, students can request up to 12 items per order and have the option to choose from nearly 52 different safer sex products. CHOICE’s treasurer Juliana Sprague ’21 reports that the club added 14 new supplies to the menu this year alone. However, placing an order for an “assortment of condoms (standard size)” yields an envelope filled with mainly Trojan ENZs, which serves as CHOICE’s go-to condom. This isn’t only the case with CHOICE. In fact, Trojan is currently the brand that first comes to mind for most consumers all throughout the U.S. market.
So how did Trojan become the default condom brand for so many users nationwide? The early 2000s saw a rise in ultrathin condom sales as Mayer Laboratories introduced their Kimono Microthin, a condom they advertised as being “so thin and silky they’re practically not there” (East Bay Express, “Go thin or bust,” 11.18.2008). By 2005, Mayer dominated the market, leaving other companies like Trojan on the clock to come up with inventive promotional strategies. In response, Trojan provided retailers with kickbacks, which are under-the-table bribes made in exchange for control over how stores displayed their products on shelves. By maximizing their shelf space, Trojan reduced the likelihood that customers even saw other products, since the average person takes less than 10 seconds to pick out condoms. As a result of this marketing strategy, other condom brands’ sales decreased significantly. For example, LifeStyles saw a reduction in their U.S. market share from 13 percent to 7.7 percent during the period Trojan offered kickbacks (SFGate, “Condom companies battle over retail displays,” 04.23.2011).
When faced with accusations of bribery, Trojan denied that their planogram marketing scheme was done to intentionally enhance their sales. Instead, they argued that this shelf arrangement model aimed to encourage stores to group condoms together by brand and allow customers to find their preferred brand more easily (SFGate). Fortunately for Trojan, the Federal Trade Commission closed an antitrust probe filed by Trojan’s competitors in 2012, finding that no further action was warranted to address their usage of planograms and kickbacks. As a result, Trojan now owns a vast majority of the condom market share—over 72 percent by one estimate (Technavio, “Condom market in the US 2017-2021,” 11.2017). Meanwhile, Kimono, Lifestyles and other brands that comprise the remainder of the market have fallen behind Trojan in both sales and shares.
The same pattern applies to Vassar. Recent data from the 2017-2018 school year collected by former CHOICE co-presidents Matthew Rodman ’18 and Ashley Carey ’18 shows that Trojan dominates the overall percentage of supplies ordered, following national trends in public consumption. While Trojan condoms account for only eight percent of the total products offered (CHOICE also offers safer sex supplies from LifeStyles, Kimono, ONE and Sheer), students overwhelmingly chose Trojans as their most popular condom brand. Trojan Magnums accounted for 21.1 percent of total orders from last academic year, followed by Trojan ENZ (CHOICE’s default condom) at 14.2 percent. As a whole, Trojan products constituted 38.5 percent of all total orders (including condoms, dental dams, lube, etc.) and 51.6 percent of total condom orders alone.
Interestingly enough, national trends also show that younger people are having less sex. In 2018, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that condom use among sexually active high schoolers has declined from 63 percent in 2003 to 57 percent that year (CDC Features, “CDC releases youth risk behavior survey results and trends report,” 06.14.2018).
In addition, recent data shows that the perceived quality gap between Trojan and Durex is also diminishing. Using a quality scale between 0 to 36, studies on U.S. men aged 18 to 34 have found that Trojan’s quality score has recently dropped from 27 to 20 in a matter of months (Forbes, “Fewer young men are talking about Trojan and Durex,” 02.12.2018). Recent trends in CHOICE orders are similar. With the introduction of 14 new products in the past year, CHOICE has noticed an uptick in the number of LifeStyles and ONE condoms ordered by students, especially after the introduction of two particular LifeStyles condoms—LifeStyles SKYN and LifeStyles SKYN Large. Recent editorial reviews rated the LifeStyles SKYN condom as the best overall condom to purchase in 2019, stating “[T]he thin feeling of the condoms and the ample lubricant on them makes the SKYN pack their go-to choice” (Verywell Health, “The 10 best condoms to buy in 2019,” 02.05.2019).
Because condom preference can be subjective, different condom brands would ordinarily be preferred by different people. However, with Trojan’s current domination over condom advertising and visibility, people might not realize that other brands are just as good and reputable. As a result, they may continue to use Trojans even when they aren’t ideal for what they might be looking for. Using the correct condom is important for comfort, prevention of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and, if utilized properly, as an effective method of birth control.
Wearing a condom that is too big can cause it to slip off, and wearing one that is too small may result in condom breakage. Condom sizing may be confusing because different condom manufacturers use slightly different measurements and terms to describe the size. Once you find the condom brands that come in sizes closest to your measurements, you may want to try a few different types to determine which options give you the best mix of comfort and sensitivity. Condom material (latex, polyurethane or polyisoprene), design (textures and shape) and built-in lubrication are all other factors you may want to consider when choosing a condom.
It is important to remember that what works for other people might not work for you! Therefore, you should not necessarily wear the condoms that large corporations pressure you into using, but rather try new brands and focus on your own sexual health and pleasure.