Better Condoms for a Better World

Will 2014 be the year of the new condom? Last week, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation granted $100,000 each to eleven winners out of a pool of over 800 global participants, all charged with the task of inventing a condom that “significantly preserves or enhances pleasure” for both wearers and their partners.

Image via Qxukhgiels/Wikimedia Commons.

Photo courtesy of Qxukhgiels/Wikimedia Commons.

The condom innovators, ranging from researchers at the Boston University Medical Center to companies in South Africa, have adopted the use of many non-latex materials, such as a polyurethane polymer, thermoplastic elastomer and collagen fibrils from cow tendons. These new sheaths are designed to be extra-strong, ultra-thin and much more comfortable than condoms currently available on the market.

One prototype, developed by a team at the University of Oregon, utilizes elastomeric materials that allow the condom to mold to the wearer’s shape when exposed to body heat. Another model from the University of Manchester is made of elastic and intended to feel like an “invisible” condom, a better simulation of skin-to-skin contact.

Bill and Melinda Gates. Image via World Economic Forum/Flickr.

Bill and Melinda Gates.
Photo courtesy of World Economic Forum/Flickr.

Teams have also developed new methods of condom application. The House of Petite Pty. Ltd. in Australia invented an applicator independent of the condom but included in the same packaging, intended to prevent contact with the wearer’s hands. The Rapidom, produced by Kimbranox Ltd. in South Africa, has a perforation down the center of the wrapper for a swift single-motion application, making its use both simple and sanitary.

Image via Paul Keller/Flickr.

Photo courtesy of Paul Keller/Flickr.

The contest, announced in March, is not only intended to invent the “next generation of condoms” in terms of pleasure, but also to encourage more members of the public to begin using these contraceptives to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted infections and unwanted pregnancies. This could be especially effective in lowering pregnancy and infection rates among college students, who may be more adverse to using condoms because of the low comfort factor.

Featured photo courtesy of robertelyov/Flickr.

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