A group of scientists in Australia is developing a series of condoms which it claims could feel even better than wearing nothing at all.
A team at the University of Wollongong (UOW) have been experimenting with hydrogel materials, which they say have a range of benefits over latex.
Ultra-strong and flexible, hydrogels have been around for decades, but lead materials scientist Robert Gorkin says they are ideal to be converted for use as condoms because they can be engineered to have different properties.
Imagine a condom that self-lubricates, detects STI’s, delivers its own small dose of Viagra, biodegrades in the long term or even conducts electricity and responds to stimulation.
“Our original idea was just to try to prove that an original material could replace latex,” Gorkin said.
“We had an idea that these new materials would have the same properties as rubber with a nicer feel, but we weren’t sure if they had the right properties for a condom.”
The team received one of 52 grants from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which called on scientists to help get around the fact that people don’t like to use condoms.
It offered initial funding of $100,000 per project for the design of a new, stigma-free condom that could “lead to substantial benefits for global health, both in terms of reducing the incidence of unplanned pregnancies and in prevention of infection with HIV or other STIs”.
Nine months on, and the team at UOW is looking to prove that their material is the right choice to replace latex in the condom of the future.
The next step will be biometric testing, so we don’t just have to take the scientists’ word on how the hydrogel condoms perform. Gorkin said: “We’ll be able to look at brain activity to see whether it really feels better than latex.”
“If you make them so pleasurable that people can’t wait to put them on, then more people will use them, and we can hopefully stop the spread of disease. It’s as simple as that.”
In the UK another practical application has been discovered that could be incorporated with the UOW research.
A condom that changes colour when it comes into contact with sexually transmitted infections has been invented by a group of school children.
The ‘S.T.EYE’ has a built-in indicator to detect infections such as chlamydia and syphilis, turning a different colour depending on the strain of bacteria present.
It is the brainchild Daanyaal Ali, 14, Muaz Nawaz, 13 and Chirag Shah, 14, pupils at Isaac Newton Academy in Ilford, Essex, who wanted to “make detecting harmful STIs safer than ever before” without the need for invasive tests.
You may think awkward post-coital silences are common enough as it is – but the group’s ingenuity has been recognised with an award, the TeenTech gong for best health innovation.
Daanyall said: “We created the S.T.EYE as a new way for STI detection to help the future of the next generation.
“We wanted to make something that make detecting harmful STIs safer than ever before, so that people can take immediate action in the privacy of their own homes without the invasive procedures at the doctors.
“We’ve made sure we’re able to give peace of mind to users and make sure people can be even more responsible than ever before.”
Former Tomorrow’s World presenter Maggie Philbin, founder and chief executive of TeenTech, said: “We encourage students to take their ideas out of the classroom by putting them face-to-face with industry professionals, helping to open their eyes to the real potential of their ideas.”
It looks like the condom is set for a revival as a primary system for prevention of STI’s and simultaneously provide more stimulating sex, leaving no excuse for not using one.
Also a useful addition for pharmacists involved in providing sexual health services.