(Above) Condom design ideas from Made in Love
People use condoms because they need to, not because they want to. There is no question that we need better condoms. The tougher question is in defining just what a better condom is. A number of companies are trying to answer that question.
Many companies are also taking advantage of the new ways the Internet allows them to raise capital. They are using creativity to create a better condom, and creativity to raise the money to get that condom to market.
We have not tried any of these condoms. We hope to in the coming year, but not all of them are even available for sale yet, or have only limited availability. Based on recent history, though, coming out with a revolutionary condom is very difficult. Many never make it to market, others fail, and others under perform.
The company behind the highly anticipated Origami condom were able to tap into funding from the National Institute for Health. Unfortunately, they got too creative, when they massively embezzled money intended for condom development and spent it on things like island vacations. Three years later, after mountains of hype in the media, their website is offline and it looks like the Origami condom will never see the light of day.
In 2013, Bill and Melinda Gates, through their Foundation, began offering grants for creative ideas for better condoms. It is difficult and very expensive to get FDA approval for a non-latex condom. While the idea was great, it fell short financially. They offered $100,000 to develop the most promising ideas, and then a million dollars to the best of those. That may seem like a lot, but it does not even come close to the cost of shepherding something through FDA approval. Non-latex condoms have a very high barrier to entry, and can take a decade or more to get throuh the FDA process. So far, none of the ideas that were promoted through these grants has made it to market.
One of the most promising of these was the condom made with graphene from Apex Medical Technologies. This allowed for a condom that was exceptionally thin. As of yet, it is nowhere close to getting FDA approval, and it might never unless someone steps up with the money.
One of the most unusual condom concepts is the Galactic Cap. It covers much less of the penis than a traditional condom in order to provide more sensation. It literally adheres to the penis rather than slipping over the penis. While it will protect against pregnancy and HIV, it does not offer much protection against herpes or HPV, which are transmitted through skin contact. It is also unclear just how easy this is to put on, as it does seem a little complicated from looking just at the video on their site. It may be much easier than it appears. We just don’t know. They only have prototypes available right now, and they are currently sold out. It is an interesting idea, but it is so novel that they will have to work very hard to prove that the concept works.
The Unique Pull Condom is on the market now. It is approved in Canada and Australia but does not have FDA approval in the United States. It has been tested well enough that I think you can feel fairly secure that it will work as well as latex condoms for preventing pregnancy and the transmission of STIs. It took many years to develop this latex free condom and it is one third the thickness of the standard latex condom. It has a burst strength that is three times that of the average latex condom. Those two aspects make it the thinnest and strongest condom on the market. Remember being warned not to carry a condom in your wallet? This is actually packaged to look like a credit card and you can carry it in your wallet. The condoms have self detaching pull strips that allow you to quickly pull on the condom without even touching it. There are three condoms in each card. Too bad they can’t use the slogan “Don’t leave home without it.”
Designer sex toy manufacturer Lelo has stepped into the condom market. Their new product is called the Lelo Hex. It is not a graphene based condom, but a graphene inspired one in which they adopt a hexagonal support structure to make the condom more durable. The concept is that a break or tear will be contained to a single hexagon rather than shredding the entire condom. The hexagons are also supposed to create some internal friction that make the condom less likely to slip. Their structure also allows for a thinner latex condom, although these are not the thinnest on the market. There has been a lot of controversy with their choice of Charlie Sheen as a spokesperson. He does have a large following though, and now that he is HIV positive, he is an example of someone who should have been practicing safe sex. It starts shipping August 15th, and they have special pre-shipping deals right now on their web site.
Of course we want a better condom, but maybe better could also include aesthetics. That is the idea behind Made in Love’s Kickstarter campaign. They want to produce condoms that are works of art, designed by a team of artists. The French company has some nice designs, but very little time left, since the Kickstarter campaign winds down the end of this month.
The basic goals for a better condom are fairly simple. The efficacy issue we have handled- used properly they are 98% effective. What we need are condoms that are easier to use (eliminating those real world statistics that take their effectiveness down to just 82% because so many do not use them properly), quicker to put on, and provide more sensation. How well these entries move us in that direction remains to be seen.