Condoms Can Be Fun, Too

When it comes to setting the mood for safe sex, pleasure seems to be more of a motivation than fear of pregnancy or disease.

Authors of "Viewpoint" in this week's issue of leading U.K. medical journal The Lancet say campaigns promoting condom use should emphasize how they can enhance the "fun factor" of sex.

Touting the pleasure-enhancing benefits of certain condoms -- whether they be ribbed, textured or twisted -- would represent a divergence from conventional safe-sex promotion efforts, which usually focus on the adverse consequences of unprotected sex.

"Since pursuit of pleasure is one of the main reasons that people have sex, this factor must be addressed when motivating people to use condoms and participate in safer sexual behavior," the authors say in the "Viewpoint."

"Although enjoyment -- and even sex itself -- has been noticeably absent from much of the dialogue surrounding STI [sexually transmitted infections] and the spread of HIV, increasing evidence shows the importance of condom promotion that includes a combination of pleasure-based and safer sex messages."

Most experts told ABC News that they agreed that a new approach was needed to promote safer sex.

"Sole emphasis on disease prevention is no longer working," said Eli Coleman, professor and director of the Program in Human Sexuality at the University of Minnesota Medical School in Minneapolis. "The authors accurately point out the obvious -- that one of the main goals of having sex for humans is pleasure. It is important that we recognize that sexual health is more than the absence of disease."

Fear-promotion has not stopped the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.

"Fear tactics have famously not worked. The spread of STIs is epidemic and devastating," said Gina Ogden, sex therapist and researcher and author of "The Heart and Soul of Sex: Making the ISIS Connection." "Since sex is about pleasure and fun, it makes sense that providing pleasurable, fun materials to make sex safer is a way to help stem STIs."

And condoms need all the public relations they can get.

It turns out the perception that condoms decrease sexual sensation is the key reason more people don't use them.

This finding comes from a study led by The Global Programme on AIDS, which looked at sexual behaviors in 14 countries.

Changing this perception, experts say, is crucial in appealing to those who value pleasure over prudence.

"People do have lots of negative connotations around condom use," said David Greenfield of the Healing Center, LLC, in West Hartford, Conn. "The reality is that people mostly have sex because it's fun and feels good. So why not just deal with that reality and stop pretending it's all about abstinence and reproduction?"

Some doctors have already started adapting a more pleasure-oriented approach to condoms.

"This is an approach that I have used in my practice when teaching women how to convince men to use condoms," said Dr. Hilda Hutcherson, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Columbia University in New York. "I recommend that they tell their partners that the condoms that they have chosen will increase their pleasure and make sex more fun."

Not everyone is sold on the approach, however.

"I am very skeptical that this will be effective in the long term, but it would certainly encourage men, including teenagers, to be more willing to try them and perhaps accept them," said Dr. Martin Kafka, associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard University in Boston.

Though shifting condom messages into more pleasurable territory may not be a silver bullet, Kafka says it may be worthwhile to try this approach.

"Any method or marketing strategy that encourages safer sex practices and reduces the risk of pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases is worthy of investigation," he said.

Could the Pleasure Message Appeal to Teens?

Though the study examined in "Viewpoint" dealt largely with HIV-prone populations in Africa, experts say the findings could also help tailor more effective safe sex messages directed at teens in the United States.

"Safer sex messages have been mired by a hesitation or fear that if we even promote condoms we might promote more sexual behavior, particularly among youth," Coleman said.

"However, there are a myriad of other factors that are influencing sexual behaviors and practices. Condom promotion has only helped increase responsible sexual behavior rather than encourage greater sexual activity," Coleman said.

Ogden says there is no basis for the idea that teaching teens about the pleasurable aspects of sex leads to promiscuity.

"In fact, when teens are taught responsible sex -- along with any other kind of responsibility, like wearing a seat belt and using directional signals when driving a car -- they tend to become safer, happier, more confident human beings," he said.

Such promotion efforts could resonate with teens, a demographic not typically known for its attention to messages on safety.

"Teens feel they are invincible," Coleman said. "They are not focused on reproduction or worried about getting old or sick. For those that are sexually active -- and most of them are -- they are looking for ways to enhance pleasure, develop relationships, and enhance their self esteem."

"Many adolescents and young adults are far more interested in being adventurous than practical or prudent, whether it's how they drive, how they snowboard, or how they act on their sexual urges," said Linda De Villers, licensed psychologist and author of "Love Skills: A Fun, Upbeat Guide to Sex-cessful Relationships."

Marketing the 'Sex Toys of the Future'

According to the "Viewpoint," condom brands that emphasize a ribbed or studded design to increase pleasure have sold well in Uganda, where HIV/AIDS remains a problem.

Thus, the authors write, adding pleasure into the equation has the potential to boost condom use even further, reducing the spread of disease.

Now, some say, the onus is on manufacturers to develop and promote new product lines -- ones that enhance stimulation for parties on both sides of the latex.

"It blows my mind that the condom companies themselves are so lacking in unique designs and interesting advertising plans," said Suzie Heumann, president of, Inc. and author of "The Everything Great Sex Book."

"Condoms could actually be the new sex toys of the future -- and without batteries -- with design changes, additions, and a new advert campaign," she said.

And shifting the focus to pleasure, Hutcherson says, makes condoms no less effective in preventing disease and pregnancy.

"All of this puts the focus on increased pleasure during sex, and the protection against STIs is a wonderful 'side effect' or bonus," Hutcherson said. "It seems to work better than the typical 'protection against STIs' message."