The XX Factor

Upscale Sex Toy Brand Enlists Charlie Sheen to Promote Its Dubious New Condoms

Are Lelo’s new condoms really an improvement over regular old latex condoms?

Upmarket sex toy manufacturer Lelo has come out with a new line of latex condoms, Hex, declaring that it has made the first innovation in male barrier methods in 70 years. (Join the club.) The brand is off to an inauspicious start: It’s priced its condoms at twice the cost of regular ones, offered dubious claim about superior benefits, and roped in convicted domestic abuser Charlie Sheen as its first spokesperson.

Lelo’s decision to enlist Sheen—a serial perpetrator of violence against woman and a notorious misogynist anti-Semitic mess—is somewhat unexpected, since the brand is possibly the world’s most upscale mainstream brand of sex toys. Its products are sleek, sophisticated, and nothing like the average sex shop’s cheaply made gadgets in clamshell packaging with photos of greased-up hunks. The company manufactures such lavish erotic goodies as a $15,000 24-karat gold dildo endorsed by Goop, Gwyneth Paltrow’s lifestyle site and exercise in conspicuous consumption.

Now, it seems to be moving away from that minimalist-opulence approach. At Lelo’s Hex launch party, the company brought in erotic dancers and a larger-than-life ice sculpture of a penis.

Sheen, who was blackmailed into telling the world he’s living with HIV last year, appears in a video on the Lelo website, taking deep breaths and staring meaningfully into middle distance over a somber, emotional piano score. He struggles for 20 seconds to find the right words to discuss his journey with HIV. “People associate the word condom with less pleasure, with less connection,” he says, but taking five seconds to put one on can “absolutely prevent a lifetime of potential grief and suffering.”

This is a complete mischaracterization of what an HIV diagnosis would likely mean for someone with enough resources to find and purchase luxury condoms. Though there’s still no cure, in these times, people with HIV can get treatment so effective, it makes the virus undetectable in their bloodstreams. People are surviving to ripe old ages with HIV, having lived lives undefined by grief and suffering.

In the video, Sheen seems to suggest that Lelo Hex condoms could be the answer to halting the spread of HIV. The company claims that they’re stronger and less likely to break than other brands and that more men will want to wear them because they’re more comfortable than regular latex condoms. Allegedly inspired by graphene, Hex condoms have a raised internal hexagon pattern that’s supposed to keep the condom from slipping off and prevent the entire condom from snapping apart if one cell is compromised. But then you’d have a hexagon-sized hole in your condom, which kind of defeats the condom’s purpose. Lelo’s site says the panels “flex and mold to the uniqueness of the wearer,” which it would seem that all latex condoms do, tight as they are.

Sheen and Lelo also boast about the thinness of Hex condoms, though Gizmodo reports that, at 0.055 millimeters thick, they’re more than twice as thick as some of the extra-thin latex condoms already on the market. Lelo founder Filip Sedic has set up a false choice between two straw men: ultra-thin condoms that feel good but break easily, and double-bagged condoms that reduce sensation. “You want something with a good feel or you want something super strong. That’s the choice, and sorry, but I don’t think you have a good feel if you put condoms on top of one another,” he told TechCrunch. But a thin latex condom is not any more likely to break than a thick one. (Plus, it doesn’t transmit heat the way polyurethane and lambskin condoms do, which means it may not actually feel much better than a thicker latex condom.) And hopefully everyone knows by now that wearing two condoms at once actually creates more internal friction, making the condoms more susceptible to breakage.

One weird detail of these fancy new latex barriers: The word respect is embossed at the base. A Lelo representative told Gizmodo that the word’s supposed to tell the world to “respect the man who wears it.”

That sounds like something Tom Cruise’s sexspirational-speaker character in Magnolia would say, which might point to Lelo’s endgame here. Most of its toys thus far have been marketed as vibrators and dildos for women; condoms are usually worn by men. The company is using tech-world lingo, a commercial that looks like a Samsung ad, and one of the country’s most infamous playboys to tap the market of “innovation”-obsessed dudes. “People still want to be like me or experience my life,” Sheen says in the promo video, “but there’s a little detail that they want no part of. They can avoid that by using [Lelo Hex],” he continues. You can have a ton of sex with loads of hot women, but you don’t have to get HIV if you have these stronger, better condoms, Lelo says, as if condom breakage were the No. 1 cause of new HIV infections for men who have sex with women. Charlie “sorry my life is so much more bitchin’ than yours” Sheen endorses this message.