"What if, just one time, I chose differently," Charlie Sheen said, addressing 100 or so people standing in a Manhattan warehouse space amidst erotic dancers and a 1.2m penis ice sculpture at the launch of the LELO HEX condom. If we're to believe the lofty claims from "pleasure object" manufacturer LELO, the lowly condom has remained unchanged for nearly 70 years. The new HEX, with its honeycomb pattern, wants to be the cure-all for our sexual woes, an inspired revamp to make condoms safer and more appealing. Image: LELO
It's a noble goal, but the celebrity endorsement and all the glowing press aside, what sets these things apart from the Durex you can pick up at your local pharmacy?
The most noticeable difference between HEX and a regular rubber is its honeycomb pattern, and LELO says individual hexagonal cells can break without causing total structural failure. This was gleefully demonstrated at the product's launch party by a man repeatedly stabbing holes into a stretched HEX with a pin. (He identified himself as having graduated from the Swedish Institute of Sex, whatever that means.) The implication is that the honeycomb structure creates a safer, more durable condom.
But a break is still a break and Pin Man told me that yes, a cell failure in the HEX is a very bad thing that can still lead to unwanted pregnancy or STI transmission, akin to normal rip in a traditional condom. So is the HEX any safer? Probably not.
It doesn't seem to be any more pleasurable to wear either. The company claims those hexagons are "inspired by graphene" and "Formula 1 wet tires". Allegedly this helps the condom grip the penis in a tighter, more form-fitting manner than regular condoms, though I did not find this to be the case.
LELO also loves to harp on the HEX's thinness. At 0.055mm it's not a bulky, stimulation-sucking dick raincoat, but it's far from the ultra thins already on the market, some of which are a mere 0.02mm.
Then there's the clean, stylised packaging which Pin Man likened to "Apple store headphones" and is also geared to make condoms more appealing to the cool kids. At $US35 ($48) for a 36-pack, the comparison to Apple headphones is apt: Overpriced for what you get. A 40-count regular pack of Ansells can be had for for just $12 on Chemist Warehouse.
Pin Man also insisted on showing me that, once fully unrolled, the HEX has the word "respect" printed in some sort of latex bas relief at its base. "Respect, what?" I asked, genuinely unsure of the message's implications. "Respect the man who wears it," was his impromptu answer.
I should also note that, despite the launch party's obsession with hexagon-laden merchandising that screamed "dick beehive", once worn, the individual cells are no longer noticeable at all.
So it would seem the LELO HEX is neither safer, cheaper, thinner, better feeling or even a more aesthetically interesting option. Despite trying to distance itself from the baser condom innovations (colours, textures, tastes and so on), the HEX is for all appearances just another gimmick.
Safe sex is important, and everyone should wear a condom. It just doesn't have to be this one.