Last November, 812 creative minds set out to improve one of the most important tools in sexual health, the male condom. Their work was in response to a contest sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, that wanted to encourage new innovations to make the condom more functional, comfortable, and more likely to be used. The foundation chose 11 winners, out of the over 800 participants, who were awarded with $100,000 to further develop their idea. The idea that shows the most promise after this development will receive another $1 million to continue work on their product.
Though condoms are the “go-to” contraception for most couples, there is certainly room for improvement. In fact, there has been little change in the male condom in over 500 years (Weber, 2013). The changes that have occurred have been minimal and haven’t done much to improve its popularity among consumers. It is estimated that only 25-33% of vaginal intercourse in the United States is protected by the use of a condom. However, most US teens (68% of females and 82% of males) use a condom the first time they have sex (Planned Parenthood, 2010). Somewhere along the way people decide not to use this form of contraception. Today’s condom is very effective in preventing pregnancy and the transmission of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), but many people complain that they experience less sexual pleasure when they use a condom. It might not seem like a big deal, but it keeps a huge number of people from using condoms and puts them at risk for unwanted pregnancies and STIs. That’s why the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation decided to fund these grants. They thought, if a better product could be created that more people would use and enjoy, we could truly improve health statistics and people’s experience of safe sex.
Some of the concerns about these new condom innovations will be their cost and accessibility. There are some alternatives out there to the latex male condom already. One is the lambskin condom. It allows for more sensation during sex, but doesn't protect against sexually transmitted infections, it's more expensive than latex, and it's not as easily accessible. Polyurethane condoms protect against pregnancy and STIs and are said to have greater sensitivity because polyurethane can transmit body heat. However, the material is more sensitive to breakage than latex and they are also more expensive and difficult to find. On the other hand, the current latex male condom is inexpensive and anyone can purchase them in almost any grocery store, drug store, or convenience store, if not find them for free at a local clinic or health center. The new innovation would have to be inexpensive and accessible in order for it to be as successful as the Gates Foundation is hoping.
Among the 11 winners are a condom made out of collagen fibers from bovine tendons, a one size fits all condom that will tighten depending on the user’s size, a condom with an applicator for easier and faster use, and one that mimics saran wrap, in which the use will wrap their penis instead of the current condom’s uncomfortable squeeze method. Many of the other winners are using completely new materials for their condom prototypes in hopes of mimicking the sexual experience that users have when they go condom-free (Weber, 2013).
The improvements on the condom are based on improving sensation, experience, and ease of use. The hope is that these factors will make the condom more widely, used and therefore helto better protect against unwanted pregnancies and STIs. The foundation may end up asking two of the winners to join forces to work on the final product. Hopefully what they come up with will be an inexpensive, much-improved take on our old friend, the condom.
Non-Latex Condom FAQ. (2014). Retrieved February 24, 2014, from http://www.condom.com/faq-non-latex-condoms.html
Ten Little-Known Facts About Condoms from Planned Parenthood. (2010). Retrieved February 24, 2014, from http://www.plannedparenthood.org/about-us/newsroom/press-releases/ten-little-known-facts-about-condoms-planned-parenthood-35210.htm
Weber, P. (2013). Meet the 11 condoms of the future selected by Bill Gates. Retrieved February 24, 2014, from http://theweek.com/article/index/253231/meet-the-11-condoms-of-the-future-selected-by-bill-gates
Improving the Male Condom by UrbanSculpt Staff Writer Meghan Stone MSW, MEd is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
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