The man who reinvented the condom

Danish invention not an overnight success

In the late '90s and early '00s Budweiser ran a ’real American heroes’ advertising campaign. The ads were a tongue-in-cheek salute to ‘great’ Americans, such as Mr Footlong Hotdog Inventor, Mr Wrecking Ball Operator and Mr Push Up Bra Inventor and would end “this Bud’s for you”.

If Carlsberg were to have come up with the concept instead of Bud we may have been invited mockingly to celebrate the great Danes of history. And the most obvious candidate would have been Mr Female Condom Inventor.

A flaccid sheath of plastic
The BBC recently reported in a feature article on the commercial history of Lasse Hessel’s triumph of function over fun. It started with a less-than-glamorous sales pitch, during which he produced a flaccid sheath of plastic from an old cigar box. But, undeterred by the presentation, the American firm Wisconsin Pharmacal purchased the rights to his invention, sure that they were on to the next big thing in safe sex.

The Femidom, as it would later be marketed, faced a number of obstacles in its early years: strict regulatory requirements, comparative costliness versus its male counterpart and, most significantly, the public’s perception of the product. The media unflatteringly likened it to a jellyfish, a windsock and a fire hose (among many other things).

The device found more success in the developing world than in the USA and Wisconsin Pharmacal changed its name to Female Health Company and partnered with health organisations operating in Africa.

Ahead of his time
But after years of being seen to take the sexy out of sex in western markets, the tide is changing.

After extensive market research and redesign efforts, the female condom is enjoying something of a renaissance, suggesting that Hessel, like so many pioneers, was just ahead of his time.

A number of new brands are on the scene, euphemistically named Silk Parasol to name but one. There is even a Global Female Condom Day.

So when September 12 comes around mark it by raising a glass, thinking of Lasse Hessel and saying ”this one’s for you.”