Dose of humor helps ailing condom sales Feminine package: soft-sell approach

August 13, 1991|By Sue Miller | Sue Miller,Evening Sun Staff

THE WOMAN and man had dated a number of times and the chemistry was right. Not too many years ago, they could have had a romantic fling or checked each other out for something more permanent with less hesitation.

But, now that the newest studies show women are increasingly at risk for AIDS, they are being forced to tackle heavy issues long before they leap into dating and sex. How does the woman handle this sensitive matter? What can she do or say to find out if her partner is responsible?

Danny L. Imwold, a Bel Air entrepreneur, thinks he has a solution for today's sexually active woman. He has developed Petite Discretions, which he describes as "a new, tastefully packaged condom product for the woman of the '90s."

It's a smooth-as-silk but straightforward way to communicate her concern for safety in a relationship in perilous times. It may even draw some laughter and ease the tension of a strained moment.

What you see in a rack in a card or gift store, a college bookstore, a lingerie shop, a boutique or a pharmacy look like small cards with floral designs or attractive Victorian women in relaxed poses. The legends on them read: "Won't You . . .Join Me?" or "I'm In The Mood," or "In Case You Forgot Yours."

What you get for $2 or $2.50 is not a card, but a small sealed envelope with a soft-color design that holds one "Beyond" latex condom, delicately packaged in royal blue and gold foil. It's made with Sheerlon, a product of space-age technology, according to OKAMOTO U.S.A. Inc., the Japanese firm that makes them in Stratford, Conn.

Imwold says he wanted to create a condom product that women would not be embarrassed to purchase, carry with them and then present to their partners at the critical moment.

"Although the man also has the responsibility to use a condom," says Imwold, "he may not voluntarily use one due to discomfort, lack of concern or some other reason. 'Petite Discretions' is a communication tool. In her own special way, a woman can now ask him to wear one."

Five years ago, Surgeon General C. Everett Koop said he had found the ideal weapon to attack AIDS: the condom.

While the experts stress that only abstinence guarantees 100 percent protection, they also say that condoms, used in combination with spermicidal foam containing nonoxynol-9 which kills the AIDS virus, can be very effective.

But, the expected mushrooming use of latex condoms -- the safest type because each is electrically zapped during production to find holes and flaws -- never materialized.

Since that time, many have questioned America's commitment to wage all-out war against the fatal and terrifying disease.

While the condom campaign has fizzled in this country, similar projects have met with high success in places like Switzerland and Zaire, where condom use more than tripled in less than two years.

There is evidence, however, that the American public would support campaigns urging condom use. A recent Roper poll found that 8 in 10 Americans advocate use of sexually explicit AIDS education material, even for teen-agers.

At a time when AIDS is on the rise, "this country needs to promote condoms openly, vigorously and any way it can," says Laurie Liskin, an author of a recent Johns Hopkins report, "Condoms -- Now More Than Ever."

In Baltimore, "Petite Discretions" are available at Standing Ovations in the White Marsh Mall and at Loved Ones Lingerie at 837 North Charles St.

"Everybody looks at them, especially the younger women," says Greg Heath, a salesman at Standing Ovations. "We've sold some, but we've only had them a month or so. I have one. Someone gave it to me for my 19th birthday. It's light-hearted and it could make you comfortable in a difficult situation."

In Ocean City, the condom-product can be obtained in many places, including Ocean Drugs at 2114 Coastal Highway. "We have them right by the front register," says owner and manager Jim Persinger. "In three weeks, we've sold better than half of our first order of 92 envelopes. Ninety-five percent of the buyers are women."

It is being marketed through Moi Inc., a company that Inwold and his wife and partner, Janet, formed after getting inspiration from several magazine articles explaining why women are hit harder by AIDS and why they have been reluctant to buy condoms and ask their partners to use them.

During the development phase of "Petite Discretions," more than a year ago, Imwold said he conducted market research on college campuses. Students, aged 18 to 42, were asked to complete a questionnaire while reviewing product samples. Here are some of the responses from women:

* "Many people feel very inhibited by condoms with an obvious package. The packaging for this product is ingenious."

* "I like it because it's not offensive and would not be embarrassing to walk up and buy."

And, from the male point of view:

* "Like it because women will use it. Somewhat humorous."

* "Takes some of the pressure off the man."

According to Imwold, the product received its first major exposure at the National Stationary Show in New York in May.

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