While many startups dream of high profits and glamorous exits, one e-commerce startup has set out to challenge social ideals about sex and contraception through its service Eve Condoms.
The website, as you might have guessed, sells condoms. But don’t be fooled, as Eve is no online adult shop — in fact, quite the opposite. Eve Condoms is focused on changing the stigma that often comes with buying condoms in Korea, while also providing an easier way for young people to purchase contraception.
In Korea, condoms are often regarded as an “adult” product, and any adult content in Korea is locked down with age restrictions which require verification through your cellphone or SSN to unlock. This makes it hard for teenagers to purchase contraception online.
Instinctus, the Korean company behind the website, was originally founded as a social venture under the name “We’re not ashamed!” in 2014. At the time, its focus was on making contraception more accessible to teenagers. The venture was initially run in a similar format to Toms Shoes. For the number of condoms purchased by an adult, the same number was donated to teenagers.
“Despite not being an adult product, I found it so strange that you couldn’t get search results for the word ‘condom’ because it was deemed a harmful keyword,” says Seong.
Fortunately this is no longer the case, and it appears major portals now filter out results that are deemed “harmful” rather than block search results in their entirety. Nevertheless, many sites that sell condoms are still left out of these results.
Invisible barriers and a lack of education
Korea has changed a lot over the past two decades, but buying contraception can still be difficult for young people – even from pharmacies. It can be even harder for women wanting to buy birth control pills and according to CEO Min-hyun Seong, 60-70% of Eve Condoms customers are female.
“Korean culture isn’t one where young people can easily ask for birth control at a pharmacy. You could say that contraception is hard for teenagers to buy here because of the cultural mentality, even though it doesn’t require a prescription.”
Seong adds that Korea doesn’t have a formal sexual education program in schools either, which has meant the spread of misinformation on how to use birth control pills online – potentially leading to dangerous situations.
“Because teenagers avoid medical services like those offered at obstetricians, there are a lot of cases where teens don’t ask for help when they have problems. It’s because nobody has given them the right information.”
Losing the sex appeal
While Seong’s intentions were good, he found that the initial campaign wasn’t gaining enough attention. This lead to the birth of a new brand, Eve Condoms.
Eve Condoms aren’t just aimed at teenagers. While looking at ways to take away the stigma surrounding contraception in Korea, Instinctus shifted its focus to what chemicals and materials condoms were made with. Seong says that most people don’t give a second thought to what’s in them, despite being used on one of the most sensitive areas of our body.
“I thought that maybe all these problems could be connected. With society regarding condoms as ‘sexy’ and something to feel shy about, producers have come to care more about the sex appeal side of things, rather than the use of condoms as a medical device. Because of this, consumers and retailers have no interest in what actually goes into them.”
Eve Condoms are made to be safe and are free of harmful chemicals commonly found in other brands such as paraben, glycerin based artificial additives and nonoxynole-9. They are also FSC certified and have been recognized as vegan and cruelty-free products. While Eve Condoms might not have a range of different colors and flavors, buyers can be confident that they’re using something that doesn’t harm their or their partner’s body in any way.
The French Letter Project and future plans
Despite pivoting from a social venture to becoming a brand, Instinctus still hasn’t forgotten about its goal of helping young people have safe sex. The French Letter Project (‘French letter’ being British slang for condom) is an initiative which posts out two free condoms a month to subscribers under 19. Anyone wanting to register for the project must provide proof of age to prevent people from taking advantage of the service.
As a startup, Instinctus plans to grow the business into a sexual healthcare platform by adding more products to its lineup. This includes biocompatible lubricant which has been designed to match the pressure and acidity in women’s bodies, as well as Korea’s thinnest condom at 0.03mm.
Currently a box of Eve Condoms can be bought online for around 15,000 won, with the option to receive regular deliveries. Eve Condom’s also released its own condom themed font late last year which can be downloaded here.