Go Thin or Bust 

How Berkeley's Mayer Laboratories won the battle of the thin condoms.

Page 3 of 5

So Mayer measured the Kimonos against the "Sensi-Thins," using both the Durex method and his own, which takes the thickness of the condom walls at three points using a micrometer caliper (an instrument accurate enough to measure the width of a single hair). In both cases, he claims, Durex's claims were wrong. Mayer wrote a letter to Bill Siegel, the president of Durex, asking him to cease and desist. Mayer said Siegel replied with a promise to rescind the "world's thinnest condom" slogan, although he defended Durex's data. (In fact, Sensi-Thins are still advertised as "the thinnest latex condom in the world" on several web sites.)

Durex representatives did not respond to repeated requests for comment. Asked to comment for this story, Siegel of Durex replied with this canned statement: "As the world's number one condom brand, Durex® leads the way in research, innovation, and technology which allows us to offer a wide range of high quality condom options for consumers all over the world. We do not feel it's appropriate to discuss competitors in the media and are therefore not in a position to respond further to your inquiries."

In any case, shortly after his exchange with Siegel, Mayer sent a press release advertising this tit-for-tat as a "David vs. Goliath story." An attached picture showed the Durex Sensi-Thins package with the slogan "World's THINNEST latex condom!" circled and crossed out.

For Mayer it was a small victory.

Condom advertising is more visible today than ever before, and it's not uncommon to turn on a Top 40 radio station these days and hear one of the new ads for Durex, Trojan, or Lifestyles. Among the far more adventurous web commercials are a Trojan Olympic sport called "pelvic power lifting" and the alleged "president" of Durex slamming his wang with a car door.

But despite the macho swagger of ads such as these, the industry's commercial imagery has softened and even grown a little more sophisticated over three decades, which might be related to the gradual feminization of condoms. Clearly, there's an overwhelming interest in thin condoms. Days of Good Vibrations says it's no accident. "Both women and men buy them in massive amounts. We sell tens of thousands of Kimonos a year, and of the super-thin condoms in general."

Trojan spokesperson Nyla Saleh said the competition to sell America's thinnest condom is driven by consumer demand. "People want something that's gonna have more of a natural feel, and Ultra Thin condoms are able to provide a lot of consumers with that," she said in a phone interview. "We also have very extensive focus groups that we have for each product. We take into huge account consumer reactions and personal testimonials to all of our products."

But is "thin" really what consumers are looking for, or companies just rebranding their existing products? A random survey of current and former condom buyers suggested that men and women have a wide range of reasons for buying a particular brand of condom.

Some consumers unequivocally champion thinness. In an online discussion entitled "What's the thinnest, least 'intrusive' condom on the market?" at the web site MetaFilter, one anonymous commenter described the thinking of many condom buyers. "I'm pretty tired of my penis being encased in what feels like an inch of rubber. I'm not concerned about STDs because I'm in a monogamous relationship and we've both recently had STD panels, but I'd really prefer not to have little anonymouses around. Any suggestions on really super-thin or super, um, sensation-transferring condoms?"

Kimono condoms are generally conceded to be desirable by consumers interested in thin condoms. The web retailer SpicyGear.com named Kimono MicroThins the "thinnest latex condoms made," and competitor CondomUSA is similarly enthusiastic: "Japanese condoms are our favorite because they are thinner and feel better. We vote Kimono MicroThin as our Editor Choice because we believe it is one of the best and thinnest condoms in the market. It surprises us by its thinness and quality. Because it is so thin, it reduces the 'rubber' feeling and feels like nothing at all."

"Big J," who reviewed Kimono MicroThins on the Walgreens web site, wrote: "This is the best condom ever. It's like wearing nothing at all."

Other people agreed with Mayer, albeit with reservations: "The problem is if you're doing anal sex, they're less sturdy," said "Chaz." "But you can definitely feel more."

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