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The female-designed condoms removing shame for better sex

Hanx is for everyone who has found themselves embarrassed in the condom aisle

If you have ever found yourself in the condom aisle at Boots, embarrassed, feeling like you are in the middle of a covert operation then you are one of the people that Hanx was founded for. 

Staying safe and protected during sex is, as we all know, very important, however, the stigma that surrounds female sexuality can often lead to awkward and embarassing purchasing experiences at the pharmacy. It is exactly this that sexual health brand Hanx is hoping to change. “The standard product offering you’d see on the shelves wasn’t something we felt positively about – too garish, stereotypically ‘masculine,’ penis-centric messaging,”  says Farah Kabir who co-founded Hanx alongside childhood friend Dr Sarah Welsh. “We realised that no brands were speaking to us.” 

To tackle this, the pair decided to create their own condoms designed with women’s needs in mind and with the aim of empowering people to own their sexuality. They would be easy to buy, sex-positive, and sustainable, sitting unashamedly on your bedside table with no embarrassment or shame required. “We really want the world to think differently about sexual and intimate wellness,” says Welsh. “In order to own our bodies and know when something is not right, we need to be informed and have access to products and treatments that are legitimate, safe, and don’t make you feel bad about yourself upon purchasing them.”

After condoms, lubricant quickly followed alongside a blog, Naked Truths, and a forum, Hanx Life, to encourage education and open communication among their audience. Self-care through sex-care. And now Hanx is taking on vaginal health. Launched last month, Hanx Fix is an online service for women and people with vaginas seeking over the counter solutions for vaginal issues including thrush, bacterial vaginosis, and cystitis.

“We want to remove the stigma around really common conditions like thrush, while making the purchase and use of intimate treatments as stress free and easy as possible,” explains Kabir. “Our mission is to champion sexual and intimate wellness for everyone. While we do cover some difficult and potentially awkward subjects, we adhere to a strict ‘zero judgement’ policy. We’ve probably been there, done that, or if we haven’t, we know someone who has.”

We speak to the pair to find out more.

You launched Hanx with condoms – what did you think was lacking in the industry that you wanted to address?

Fara Kabir: We felt that there was a huge scope to reimagine the design of the condom itself.

First off, we looked carefully at the sustainability aspect. We’ve worked really hard to reduce energy consumption and waste in our production process, and we use latex which has been fairly sourced and traded. It was important to us that the people who produce the latex used in our condoms receive a fair deal, too – and we’re proud to be certified as Fair Rubber.

Sarah Welsh: There was also a real need for a vegan option. Fun fact: most condoms contain casein, a protein derived from animals. Not so fun for animals, and definitely not much fun for the vegan community. We actually use a thistle extract instead, which is a bit of an in-joke at HANX HQ. Insert your own prick pun here…

Farah Kabir: Alongside the look and feel of the product, we also wanted to tackle the way condoms are marketed. We’ve built a tone of voice that’s a bit cheeky but also warm and non-intimidating. Whether we’re creating billboards in Bethnal Green or responding to DMs looking for advice, we bring in that sense of playfulness (sex should be a fun, positive experience, right), but with just enough authority to make sure our customers trust us with their intimate health.

Was design and packaging important to you? How did you want your products to look different to ones that had come before you?

Sarah Welsh: Yes, 100 per cent! Why should sexual wellness products look so different from cult beauty and lifestyle products? We wanted our community to feel comfortable enough to display HANX products on their bathroom shelves alongside their skincare go-tos. 

Farah Kabir: We recently launched our new intimate health range, HANX Fix, during lockdown and similarly wanted to tackle the status quo around vaginal health relief, right down to the look and feel. Usually, your pharmacist will hand you impenetrable instructions and a severely functional/ugly package that screams ‘MY VAGINA IS IN AGONY’ to your team, friends, family, and that nosey neighbour on the tube. We’ve counteracted that quite clinical packaging with reusable organic cotton HANX pouches for you can stash your cystitis relief inside and a jargon free leaflet for hands-free maneuvers.

Why did you decide to branch out into female intimate health? 

Farah Kabir: We’re not ones to rest on our laurels. As HANX condoms and lubricant are now established contenders in the sexual wellness market, we felt it was time to tackle the next taboo on our list. HANX Fix is designed to remove the obstacle of physically going to the pharmacist for vaginal health treatments. We actually ended up launching during lockdown, so the timing was weirdly, serendipitously, just right.

We’re also really big believers in co-creating. We’ve built a very passionate community who are not shy (seriously) about what they want. When we were planning on launching a HANX lubricant, we created a pretty in-depth survey and ended up with 6,500 respondents revealing all about their personal taste in lube! As an up and coming brand, this level of feedback is vital – compared to the major players, introducing new products can be a big gamble for us.

Is it safe to be given health treatments online without having any face-to-face contact?

Sarah Welsh: It can be, yes. We’ve partnered with an incredible online pharmacy who actually dispenses HANX Fix products, once the customer’s order is approved. Upon checkout, you’re directed to a quick, in-depth, and super important questionnaire which determines the applicant’s symptoms align with the treatment they’ve selected. This service is aimed at those who’ve previously had these conditions and are looking for a convenient, medically-sound alternative to physically going to the chemist. If you’re unsure of your symptoms or are unsure if this treatment is right for you, we recommend that you consult your GP first.

Why do you think there is a stigma around women’s sexuality and female intimate health?

Farah Kabir: We. Don’t. Talk. About. Sex. Enough.

Sarah Welsh: There’s definitely still an awkwardness around open, honest chats about sex. Sexual health, STIs, intimate health and reproduction: all too often, they’re approached in a way that leaves everyone involved feeling embarrassed or none the wiser. This perpetuates taboos, stereotypes and myths, making people less likely to access help or improve their sexual health. Our recent intimate health survey found that half of the respondents would be embarrassed to be seen carrying vaginal health treatments and 40 percent would not tell family or friends if they were suffering from intimate health issues. This needs to change.

Farah Kabir: Pre-lockdown, we hosted a series of sell-out Sex Ed classes for adults – and they were packed with people of all ages whose lack of comprehensive sex ed has left them ill prepared for life and with unanswered questions years later… We want to open the conversation, educate and ensure people can lead happier and healthier sex lives for many, many years to ‘come’! We covered everything from sexually transmitted infections, contraceptive choices and what we put in and on our bodies. The big one was lube: if you’re new to it, remember: it’s not ‘just a kinky thing’. Lube is for everyone, whatever you’re into and whoever you’re doing it with – especially yourself.

How can we as a society be more sex-positive for women?

 Sarah Welsh: In order to truly empower people to own their sexuality and sexual wellness, they need to be well informed. We felt that there was much more access to real and relatable information for other aspects within the wellness industry, such as diet exercise and to an extent, mental health. Although sexual wellness encompasses so much of our overall well being, including our physical, psychological and emotional health, there was very little good, medically-backed education out there.

Farah Kabir: Be more open about the realities of sex for people who identify as women. There are some incredible sex educators out there including Come Curious, Oloni, and Alix Fox. Watch, read, learn, start conversations and share these resources with your friends and even family. Knowledge really is power.

In your research what have you found to be some of the biggest misconceptions around female pleasure?

Sarah Welsh: This is a really good question. Probably that women’s health isn’t a necessary consideration when it comes to developing condoms. Many brands use harmful chemicals like glycerin, benzocaine, and spermicide which cause vaginal dryness and irritation. Benzocaine, in particular, is a numbing agent designed to make an erection last longer as it minimises sensitivity. It’s also an endocrine disruptor, meaning it disrupts the hormone messaging system that regulates some bodily functions like sleep and even your sex drive. It’s so important to actively research exactly what you’re putting in the most intimate parts of your body as the most innocuous-seeming ingredient could affect your health.

How do you ensure the brand and platform is inclusive to a wide range of women?

Sarah Welsh: HANX aims to be accessible to customers of all ages. We’ve teamed up with Sexpression, a charity which aims to empower young people to make decisions about relationships and sex, and partnered with Tena on their groundbreaking campaign to remove the perceived age limit around sexual wellness and conversation around women’s health.

We’re constantly evolving and making changes as we grow: some of our condom packaging currently features the term ‘male condoms’, which we’re changing to more inclusive language. As a small brand, making changes to our packaging does take time, but it’s something we’re committed to doing – it’s the right thing.