Official Condom Design: New York's New Sex Symbol You've heard of official state flowers, but an official condom? New York City's health department, which distributes 40 million free condoms a year, held a contest for a new limited-edition wrapper. The winning design, announced Tuesday, will likely become one of the most recognized logos in New York.

Official Condom Design: New York's New Sex Symbol

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


The city of New York hands out 40 million condoms a year. And it had a problem: The wrapper on that condom was deemed a little boring. So, the city held an online contest and today announced a new design winner.

NPR's Robert Smith has the story.

ROBERT SMITH: New graphic design rule: Anything you put on the wrapper of a condom starts to look somehow erotic. Take for instance Russell Greenberg's submission: the image of a beaver pelt top hat right out of the 19th century.

Mr. RUSSELL GREENBERG (Designer): It seemed like a simpler, more chivalrous time, so I wanted to kind of remind people of the fact that there's good manners involved in sex. And that's what the top hat was, a good symbolic reference to that.

SMITH: And if you picture your little gentleman wearing a jaunty chapeau, then so much the better. Other entries in the condom contest were even more suggestive. The image of a manhole - you know, the round metal ones in the street - a subway train plunging into a dark tunnel.

Mr. GENE LAMBERT (Designer): I didn't want it to be like in your face, you know.

SMITH: We appreciate that, designer Gene Lambert. Everyone knows there's nothing dirtier than the New York City subway system. The finalist in the condom contest had gathered at New York's Health Department for the announcement of the winner. Tension was mounting in the room as Health Commissioner Thomas Farley introduced the climactic release.

Dr. THOMAS FARLEY (Health Commissioner, New York City): The winning design, reveal it now.

(Soundbite of applause)

SMITH: It's the power-on symbol that you would find on the power button of a computer or a stereo system. You know, that round circle with the little line thrusting up.

Dr. FARLEY: When I saw that, I said this was pure genius.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Dr. FARLEY: Everyone recognizes that symbol on their PC. This sends a message that people should use their own power to control their sexual health.

SMITH: Dr. Farley somehow missed the opportunity to make a joke about turning on New Yorkers, but he's a serious guy. What are you going to do? The strange thing is once you stare at that power-on symbol, it's now hard not to see it as sexual. The designer, Luis Acosta, says that's the idea.

Mr. LUIS ACOSTA (Designer): I wanted to associate it with something that we see in our daily lives. So that, you know, it's not so taboo for people.

SMITH: Had you always looked at a power symbol and thought, I don't know...

(Soundbite of laughter)

SMITH: ...that kind of looks like intercourse.

Mr. ACOSTA: You know, I really like - I like electronics, but I don't like them that much, though.

SMITH: Acosta's new sex symbol will not be on all New York City condoms, just a limited release. But it will probably be one of the most recognized logos in New York.

Mr. ACOSTA: I think it's six million.

SMITH: Six million.

Mr. ACOSTA: Six million condoms. So I get to be part of, you know, about maybe four million people's sex lives. You figure you use them a few a times, right?

(Soundbite of laughter)

SMITH: Exactly, multiple.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SMITH: Luis Acosta will not be among those four million happy, happy souls. He is married and says he doesn't use condoms anymore.

Robert Smith, NPR News, New York.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.