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As we draw to the end of Trimester One, the science team here at Salient has begun to ponder, “Have we made science cool yet? What can we do to keep science sexy?” And that’s when it dawned on us. The answer was right there all along: we combine science with sex.
Similarly, as Bill and Melinda Gates pondered how they could make a positive contribution to world health, they found that their answer was also through a combination of sex and science: trying to develop a condom that enhances pleasure.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is working to reduce inequalities in the world and to tackle key global health and development problems. One of the challenges identified by the organisation was to reduce the spread of HIV. Condoms provide a great solution. However, as Papa Salif Sow, a senior program officer on the HIV team, pointed out, “The undeniable and unsurprising truth is that most men prefer sex without a condom, while the risks related to HIV infections or unplanned pregnancies are disproportionately borne by their partners.”
In 2013, an estimated 1.5 million people died from AIDS-related illnesses, with the vast majority of these living in low income countries. Sub-Saharan Africa bears the biggest burden, accounting for nearly 71% of the people living with HIV worldwide. These countries also suffer as a result of a stigma, as the suggestion of condom use is often taken to imply that one already has AIDS.
The Gates Foundation recognised that it was time for a change. Latex condoms have been used for nearly 100 years now, and although many avoid their use due to the reduction of pleasure from sex, there hasn’t been a large commercial push for change.
The Grand Challenge pitched to scientists around the globe was to develop the next generation of condom, which significantly preserves or enhances pleasure, in order to improve uptake and regular use. To facilitate this US$100,000 has already been given to 11 different groups getting creative with science to help us get down.
So what’s being developed? Here Salient presents its Top 5 new condom creations:
The University of Wollongong in Australia has been busy developing a condom using new materials called tough hydrogels. The team involves scientists with expertise in biomedical engineering, materials science and pharmaceuticals, and the condom they have been working on is not only more satisfying, but also comes with built-in lubrication. Hydrogels can be developed to look and feel more like real human tissue, and as an extra bonus, are also biodegradable. To test their pleasure enhancement UOW has teamed up with Melbourne’s Swinburne University of Technology to conduct biometric tests which monitor brain activity to see if it really does feel better than latex.
The Carbon Condom (aka The Sturdy Sheath):
Graphene is a relatively new material made from carbon atoms bonded together in a hexagonal honeycomb structure. Scientists had expected graphene to facilitate advancements in smartphones and broadband, and now a team at the University of Manchester is working hard to create a tailored condom that enhances the natural sensations of sex. The benefit of graphene is that it is crazy strong; it’s 100-times-stronger than-steel strong. Utilising a graphene composite in condoms means that they can be made super thin, and yet still be extremely durable.
A team at the University of Oregon have come up with a condom to counter the ‘one size fits all’ package for your package. This condom utilises advanced polymers to create a condom which, when activated by heat (and we know it gets hot), shrinks to fit the mould. The product could be developed to accommodate drugs that fight STDs, and could be made at half the thickness of the best current condoms.
The Lady Poncho:
The problem with female condoms is that they require proper training to insert, can be clunky, noisy and are considerably more expensive than their male counterparts. However, developers Mache Seibel and HealthRock in the US are working to counteract this by developing an air-infused female condom using a technology inspired by Nike Air patents. The Femex is a contraceptive product with an air-infused skin, which provides irresistible pleasure for both parties (as determined through proper testing of course). The condom will be made from polymer substrates incorporating tiny inflatable tubules which tightly grasp the male and stimulate the female G-spot. An extra drawcard for the Femex is that it can be inserted up to six hours in advance, a particular benefit in regions where women are less empowered and unlikely to press for protection.
And last, but certainly not least, a new condom is being developed utilising cow tendons. The makers of this condom worked with the simple argument: if you want to make sex feel as close to normal as possible with a condom, then you need to make a condom with a texture as close to human skin as possible. Mark McGlothin of Apex medical technologies in San Diego is the man behind this logic, and his condoms are being developed utilising collagen fibrils from cow tendons. McGlothin explains that both the feel and the heat transfer of the collagen material are similar to human skin, and that the best way for people to think of his new glove, is as a bio-safe, micro-thin cow leather, without the nasty chemicals.