February 14, 2014

What Will The “Next Generation” Condom Look Like?

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has challenged students, scientists and entrepreneurs to design the "Next Generation Condom."

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Happy Condoms

Happy Condoms

Incentives for condom innovation

Condoms have been used as a form of birth control and for protection against STIs for over 400 years. Early prototypes were made from linen, oiled silk paper, animal intestines and other materials. Modern condoms are made from latex rubber or polyurethane, materials that are much more effective for preventing pregnancy and STI transmission. Condom usage is more critical  than ever in the age of HIV and AIDS, so it is surprising that there have been few developments to improve the functionality of condoms in the past 50 years.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is seeking to change that. They made waves in March 2013 when they announced $100,000 in funding for “students, scientists and entrepreneurs” to submit proposals for developing the next generation of condom to help decrease transmission of HIV and STIs on a global scale.

Barriers to condom use

Condoms are recognized as an important public health strategy for preventing unwanted pregnancies and reducing transmission of HIV and STIs on a global scale. However, research has uncovered numerous barriers to condom use that may prevent individuals from consistently and correctly using condoms during sexual intercourse.

  • Errors in condom use

A 2002 study of condom use and errors amongst college men found that:

Of the 158 participants, 60% did not discuss condom use with their partner before sex; 42% reported they wanted to use condoms but did not have any available; 43% put condoms on after starting sex; 15% removed condoms before ending sex; 40% did not leave space at the tip; 30% placed the condom upside down on the penis and had to flip it over; and 32% reported losing erections in association with condom use. Nearly one-third reported breakage or slippage during sex.

These findings indicate that condoms must be easier to put on and use for the entire sex act

  • Latex allergies

An estimated 1 in 1,000 individuals suffers a latex allergy, although certain high risk populations such as health care workers may experience a prevalence of 5-15%. Polyurethane condoms exist as an alternative to latex, but are more expensive and less flexible than latex.

  • Loss of erection

37.1% of male participants in a 2006 study reported at least one incidence of erection loss on at least one occasion, which and were less likely to consistently use condoms as a result.The same study found that men were more likely to lose their erection if they did not feel confident that they knew how to use a condom correctly,  if they had problems with the “fit or feel” of the condom, or if they had previous incidents of condom breakage.

  • Poor fit

Research on the effects of poor condom fit reported increased breakage, reduced sexual pleasure, erection loss, and increased likelihood of removing condom before intercourse was completed.

  • Diminished sensations

A recent paper based on data from the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior found that:

Participants consistently rated sex to be arousing and pleasurable whether or not they used condoms or lubricant. No significant differences were found in regard to men’s ratings of the ease of their erections based on condom and lubricant use.

However, other studies present conflicting data regarding diminished pleasure related to condom use. There may also be psychological barriers related to popular beliefs that using a condom makes sex less intimate or pleasurable.

Areas for improvement

From this research it is clear that some potential areas of improvement for the “condom of the future” include:

  • Ease of use
  • Comfortable fit and feel
  • Need for flexible, hypoallergenic, condom material that effectively transmits heat and sensations
  • Durability- condom must not break easily
  • Inexpensive to purchase and produce
  • Effective against pregnancy, HIV, and other STIs

Orgami Condoms: A leader in condom innovation

Origami Condoms are emerging as one of the most promising prototypes for the condom of the future. Origami condoms offer the following advantages over existent male and female condoms:

  • Origami condoms are made from silicone, a hypoallergenic material that is flexible, durable, effective for preventing pregnancy and the transmission of viruses and STIs, and transmits sensation and body heat well.
  • There are three models of Origami condoms: a male condom, a female condom, and a condom designed specifically for receptive anal intercourse that is the first of its kind. As receptive anal intercourse is one of the most high-risk routes of HIV transmission, this condom could change the face of HIV prevention, as the receptive partner can take the initiative of wearing it. All three condoms can accommodate a variety of penis sizes without discomfort or slippage.
  • Ease of use. The Origami male condom is “accordion-shaped” and is much easier to put on the penis than a traditional rolled male condom, as it can be simply pulled on.
  • Increased pleasure. The Origami male and female condoms expand and contract during intercourse, increasing stimulation for both partners. The anal condom is the first of its kind, and is intended to make anal intercourse more natural and pleasurable feeling.

Origami condoms are currently in clinical trials, and are not currently available commercially. It will be interesting to see what the consumer response will be when the product becomes available (currently slated for 2014/2015), and whether these innovative condom models will encourage people to embrace condom use in their sex lives.