Old-fashioned rubbers may soon be replaced by a more pleasurable wave of designs.
Too many unsatisfied lovers have likened wearing condoms to putting their genitals inside plastic bags. Prophylactics, many complain, reduce sensation and cause chaffing, making sex anything but sexy. Though no one can deny a major downside to opting out of using them is a higher risk of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
The numbers give cause for concern. 35 million people around the globe were living with HIV in 2012. And 36 million others have died from the virus since outbreaks began in the 1980s, says the World Health Organization. Sub-Saharan Africa is disproportionately affected, comprising 69% of current cases worldwide.
But what would happen if condoms actually made sex better? People wouldn’t think twice about slipping them on and protecting against disease would be a welcome bonus.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation spent $1.1 million dollars in grants last month to the pursuit of this blood-pumping goal. The 11 projects evenly splitting the cash are tasked to produce the “next generation of condom:” a prophylactic that “significantly preserves or enhances pleasure” in a bid to boost their regular use.
This is the second time the foundation has given such a hefty sum to condom research. 11 different projects were awarded the same amount of money in November 2013.
The latest round of winners is no less enticing.
Air-Infused Female Condom
The female condom hasn’t caught on since its invention in the 1980s. A team at Condax Medical Products, LLC in the U.S. aims to change this with their air-infused spin on the device.
Squeeze tiny tabs on the outside rim, and small inflatable tubes blow up to keep the condom expanded inside the vagina. This product is made from polyurethane, which its makers say will minimize noise during sex. It can also be inserted up to six hours before the deed.
The Condom under 30 Micrometers Thick
Most condoms on the market are at least 40 micrometers thick. Below this level natural latex becomes too weak to prevent STDs and pregnancy.
Regenex Pharmaceuticals, Ltd. in China is experimenting with material ratios that would boost its strength in order to create a condom less than 30 micrometers thick. If successful, it could greatly improve sensation felt during protected sex.
Silicone Condom for Vaginal and Anal Sex
Researchers at Origami Healthcare Products, Inc. in the U.S. are developing a non-gender specific internal condom for both vaginal and anal intercourse. Made from a soft, plant silicone that mimics human tissue, it’s meant to heighten pleasure and safety.
The material is non- allergenic, extremely stretchable and is both tasteless and odorless. An added benefit is it has antimicrobial properties.
Its dual use is noteworthy. The group says traditional latex and polyurethane condoms are not approved for anal sex, which is linked to a high risk of HIV transmission.
Skin-Mimicking Condom that Enhances Erection
Shengxi Chen of Arizona State University plans to create a male condom that feels more like skin and promotes erection. To do this he’s covering a conventional polyisoprene condom with the molecule glycosylated PROL paired with nitric oxide.
Both sexes could come out on top with this combo. Nitric oxide is known to spark arousal in men and women.
Durable and Sensitive Tough Hydrogel Condoms
By synthesizing tough hydrogels, a team at the University of Wollongong plans to create a highly elastic and strong material that could replace latex in male condoms.
They say hydrogels feel more like human skin, can be more touch sensitive, and can be combined with stimulants and antiviral drugs — potentially making sex safer and more gratifying.
Elliptical Female Condom
A team at Indiana University in the U.S. is also trying to tackle the stigma around female condoms with a more comfortable design. By making the opening more elliptical than round, it aims to make them easier to insert.
The group also plans to test whether adding more latex coating to the end of the condom that’s placed inside the vagina will make it more enjoyable to wear.
Nanofabrication Technology to Mimic Human Skin
UbIQ World is leading another American project that wants to do away with passé latex condoms. While latex is smooth, human skin is rough and has a lot of texture, making the former feel dull and unnatural during sex.
To overcome this issue, the group proposes to develop a nanotextured condom based off the skin’s surface properties.
Pleasurable Condom Donning
This is something for the George Costanza’s out there; the men who lose their lust due to awkward pre-sex condom moments. To make them quicker and easier to put on, Ultimate Medical Products LLC is refining its male condom applicator.
The device is disposable and can be used with just one hand. It’s also supposed to ensure a correct fit.
Sliding Tampon Female Condom
One reason why female condoms haven’t become popular is because many complain they are hard to insert. Wei Zhang of QX-System in the U.S. will apply a proven idea to try to fix this problem.
This design uses a flexible tube that functions like a tampon applicator. The female condom wrapped around it is pushed into place similar to how a normal tampon would be. The applicator is then removed and can be saved for later use.
Biodegradable Polymer Condom
For all you folks concerned about the environment, Lifecare Limited in India is engineering a male condom made from a biodegradable polymer called poly(glycerol sebacate).
Unlike condoms currently on the market, the material may be safe to use with oil-based lubricants. It’s also more easily merged with antiviral drugs and vasodilators to increase blood flow.
Flavonoid Antioxidant Embedded Solid Hydropolymer Condom
Research to construct a male condom with an added antioxidant to intensify pleasure is underway at Texas A&M Health Science Center in the U.S. Stopping HIV transmission with the substance is also a goal.
The team plans on producing a hydrogel that will pair with quercetin, which supports muscle relaxation and blood flow. Don’t forget the flavonoid also keeps up nitric oxide levels to help men sustain erections.
Condom innovation is also happening outside of The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Charles Powell has grabbed a lot of attention for his Galactic Cap condom and is trying to raise $100,000 with an Indiegogo campaign. The prophylactic covers only the head of the penis, leaving the coronal ridge and shaft exposed.
Which condom idea are you most excited about?