Sex & Relationships

The next step in the evolution of safe sex

In an effort to prevent the spread of sexual diseases, The Gates Foundation asked scientists and product designers to come up with a new and improved condom.
Couple in bed, sex, happy Photo, Masterfile.

Makeovers, it seems, aren’t just restricted to afternoon talk shows featuring exhausted moms in sweat pants and formula-stained T’s, looking to feel sexy again.

The condom is getting an overall refresher that’s designed to both update its sex appeal and improve its functionality. While most people are aware of the important role that condoms can play in preventing unwanted pregnancy and controlling the spread of HIV and other sexual diseases, prophylactics still suffer from poor image and widespread misconceptions.

Many men lament what they describe as the ‘dulling’ of pleasurable sensation that occurs with condom use, which tends to make them unenthusiastic glove wearers. In cultures that believe HIV is spread through witchcraft, condom use is deemed unnecessary.

The Gates Foundation, in search of a way to reduce and prevent the spread of HIV internationally and especially in hard-hit areas such as south Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, extended an open invitation to scientists and product designers to re-imagine the condom, making it easier to use and more attractive.

According to Fast Company, the Foundation received hundreds of responses and has chosen 19 concepts; each one will receive $100,000 in development money.

Among the most intriguing ideas, are female condoms, admittedly in their developmental infancy, which would be applied like tampons.


Others ideas chosen for funding, include the development of strong materials designed to enhance sensitivity by impersonating human skin — gelatin-like hydrogels, for example, promise to increase and naturalize lubrication.

Application is an ongoing issue for condom users who will be relieved to know that help is on the way, with one developer working on a prophylactic that can be donned with one hand in under a second. While antioxidant-infused condoms are being engineered to maximize pleasure and an internal silicone condom is in the works also.

When it comes to sex, passion, impulse and the promise of instant gratification can override sober risk assessment — the hope is that by making the condom a seamless aspect of the sexual act, pleasure and risk will operate as partners in prevention rather than as adversaries.


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