With a little bit of humor and a lot of business savvy, the women of Lovability Condoms are spreading sex positivity one condom at a time. Their motivation? Although teenage pregnancy reached a historic low in 2014, STD rates have jumped by 2.8 percent. Lovability wants to change those statistics by empowering women with their feminist condoms.
To find out more about Lovability’s mission, mantra and movement to erase the stigma of sexuality, ENTITY spoke with Claire Courtney, co-founder and chief market manager of Lovability Condoms. Here’s what a woman who has made it her career to de-stigmatize and educate people about sexuality has to say about Lovability.
ENTITY: How did you get started with Lovability?
CLAIRE COURTNEY: Tiffany and I connected online (not Tinder, I swear) when I was researching my thesis. I knew I wanted to innovate condoms after I taught sex ed to teens in college. I saw first-hand how condoms helped young adults succeed. Some would disagree with this, but I believe an unplanned child at a young age strips a person of a lot of opportunity.
My students who walked away with condoms in hand (and the motivation and will to use them) were more likely to graduate high school and pursue higher education. Condoms were the only tools that enabled students to practice what I preached: safe, happy, consensual sex.
So, I turned to the industry at large and asked why so little innovation had helped to shape a healthier, more convincing conversation around condoms. My college thesis analyzed pleasure in the condom industry, or really, the lack thereof.
I reached out to every condom company on the market – and had some incredible conversations – but Lovability’s mission of creating condoms specifically for women to buy and love stood out to me.
I mean, what could be better than condoms for feminism?
Tiffany was a graduate student at the time who was driven to shape a safer, more pleasurable world for women through design. Her thesis project was our first Lovability tin design. We connected instantly over our shared vision of a condom-loving world, met up after our graduations and re-launched Lovability in New York City that fall.
ENTITY: What inspired you to study sexuality politics?
CLAIRE COURTNEY: A handful of my friends were put through extreme stress when they needed abortions in college. Finding affordable care was a big challenge. My girlfriends and I were mostly on birth control pills prescribed to us years before, often by our pediatricians. Most of our doctors were reluctant to chat about other options. The culture around sexual health spooked me.
What I read in the news was no better. I didn’t like the way female bodies were governed by men. Not just because men were responsible for legislating our rights, but also because they abused that control to restrict women – especially women of color – from planning their lives with contraception and birth control access. That’s some bullsh-t and I wanted to learn more.
I was a research assistant for a project called The Battle Over Birth Control in college. That began my official dive into sexual politics. I analyzed print media coverage of reproductive health debates between 2011 and 2012 – debates over rights deemed basic in most every other developed, democratic nation. It confirmed my belief that our culture’s fear of sex, pleasure and feminism hold us back. In turn, our culture really holds women back from living the full, beautiful lives they deserve.
ENTITY: What inspired you to teach sexual education to the homeless?
CLAIRE COURTNEY: People who practice safe sex live happier lives. Outcomes prove that people who plan and space their pregnancies are healthier, happier and more successful because of it. And those advantages pass on to their children.
I wanted to help young people see the connection between safe sex and the rest of their lives in places where they most need support. I knew that the youth I worked with weren’t given sex talks by their parents and were more likely to get pregnant than other teens. That’s a hell of a motivator to go to work in the morning.
ENTITY: Do you think you’ll stay at Lovability forever?
CLAIRE COURTNEY: Yes, in some capacity. As a small startup, we have the advantage of constant change. We evolve every other month to offer our customers and ourselves products and experiences we believe in. The beauty in that is a freedom to do whatever pleasures us, because happiness is good for business.
We pay ourselves very little. Very little, so some days I frame this as my full-time hobby and think about the change I want to create.
We want change for the world, not for the piggy bank.
It’s awesome to be connected to a community of people who want what we do, and I don’t think I’ll ever walk away from that. We’re in such a critical time of change in this country, and working to improve health rights for women is rewarding as hell.
ENTITY: Do you have any anecdotes that specifically showcase what Lovability has done in to fight the stigmatization of female sexuality?
CLAIRE COURTNEY: Chase Bank refused to work with us when we were just getting started due to our “adult-oriented” nature. Lovability hosted a petition that gained thousands of signatures and the bank updated their policies to be more sex-positive. That was a cool win! It was interesting because a bunch of adult film stars were denied banking access at the same time and their voices opened the dialogue with us. It was not the collaboration we expected when we first launched, but the result was pretty sweet.
Often, it’s the individual conversations we have with people who are opposed to what we do that feel most valuable. One time Tiffany and I were passing out samples in Washington Square Park when a woman threw them back at us. She didn’t know what kind of freebie we had given her (most people don’t immediately think condom) and when we told her, she chucked them at us.
We were horrified to have offended her, but graciously, she gave us the chance to explain ourselves. We talked about our mission of helping women build confidence and feel more in control of their lives. She listened and explained her own discomfort with having condoms around. We understood. By the end of the conversation we were all laughing and smiling and she even offered to film an interview for our blog. I think we learn the most when we’re met with hesitation. Luckily for us, that’s pretty often.
ENTITY: What goals are you currently working toward to de-stigmatize sex or promote sexual health?
CLAIRE COURTNEY: Right now, we’re excited to rally women together with some powerful messages about our bodies and pleasure. Our core goal is to help women get what they want in bed – and in life. The two are so connected.
Access to resources is super important, so we’re aiming to become a more educational platform for exploration. Sexuality is linked to economic opportunity, race and privilege. Exploring these issues through the inclusion of more voices is so important. Expanding our own scope for analysis – our online community and blog – is a big goal.
We speak openly about pleasure, sex, confusion, consent and masturbation to encourage other women get real about what they desire. We’re always working to reframe the conversation around women and sex.
We believe equality starts with expression and opportunity.
If women can use Lovability as a tool to speak up in the bedroom (and the classroom, board room, etc.), we are getting closer to the world we dream of.
Of course, not all women have that chance. It’s not just about getting women to speak up – it’s about getting other people to listen. That’s easier in some parts of the world than it is in others. Despite the flimsy state of our domestic sexual politics, we’re lucky to have the freedom to discuss these issues the way we want to. We’re also lucky to have a company that doesn’t censor its employees.
ENTITY: Do you have any plans to expand upon on this project in the future? Could we see Lovability lube, birth control containers or female condoms?
CLAIRE COURTNEY: Releasing new products is a big temptation. We’re always brainstorming and tracking customer requests. It’s amazing to hear from people who want more birth control products from us. It means they want more birth control – which is so damn cool. Feedback directly shapes our next move, which is how we stay involved with our community. It’s fun because we can never get too far ahead of ourselves, and we get to work directly with our customers. I love that!
We released a lot of big stuff last year – a new face if you will. The designs were fresh and make a powerful statement about what we stand for: equality, baby! And pleasure. Mixed with a little humor, of course.
We both want to pivot towards education and provide women with more tools to honor our bodies and futures. Condoms are an incredible start and a tool we’re particularly attached to.
But condoms paired with conversation – that’s the golden ticket.
ENTITY: How do you and Tiffany work together – how do you divide up responsibilities or complement each other?
CLAIRE COURTNEY: Tiffany and I work remotely from opposite coasts. She lives in San Diego and I divide my time between NYC, Montana and the Bay Area, so we have a very virtual relationship. We both play to our strengths, which was an intentional shift of responsibilities we made after realizing there isn’t enough time in the day and there never will be. Can you believe that took us a year?
We try to focus on the tasks we each love, and, luckily, they tend to be different. Tiffany’s a designer at heart and her vision fuels our whole aesthetic. I like talking with our customers and building an inclusive voice for the brand. We’re both naturally eager to take on new projects, so we keep each other in check and focused on the end goal. Right now, that’s the launch of our new condoms.
Yes, sometimes we have to spend hours dealing with customs or the FDA and assembling thousands of tins takes away from doing what we love, but we divide and conquer when it comes to grunt work.
We just nailed down an awesome assembly organization. All of our tins are now assembled by an incredible group of disabled adults in Southern California. They take their time on the assembly line and put so much love and care into each tin. I swear we can feel the difference. It’s a great way to keep assembly close, employ fabulous people and spread more good vibes through small business.
Tiffany and I have met the most amazing people through Lovability. From those who helped us get started, to the fabulous contributors and interns we have today – we feel so lucky. This business is a huge gift in our lives and we try never to take it for granted.
ENTITY: Do you think the blog will someday expand to its own site or media platform?
CLAIRE COURTNEY: Expanding our blog to reach more people and gather more voices for change and acceptance is a big goal of ours. Tiffany and I can only tell two stories about women and condoms. The rest is up to our community. We’ve had some incredible submissions, and I’m pretty obsessed with our current contributors. But we aren’t stopping here!
When you think about buying condoms, being able to feel empowered and lower the national rate of STDs probably aren’t the first ideas to pop into your mind. However, if the women from Lovability Condoms have anything to say about it, feminism, female empowerment and sexual safety will be the golden trio of female sexual health in the future.
We just can’t wait to see exactly how awesome – in bed and otherwise – that future is for women!
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