Courtesy of California Family Health Council
One experimental condom has tabs on either side so it's easier to put on in the dark.
When you hear the term "next-generation condom," beef tendon probably isn't the first thing that pops into your mind.
But a condom made from the cow part is one of $100,000 from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in its reinvent-the-condom competition.
winning proposal uses a material that shrinks when it warms up on the
body so it provides a perfect fit. Yet another team combined opening the
condom package with application — in a single quick motion — so there's
no more fumbling in the dark.
No more fumbling in the dark? South African designers have developed a condom that you crack and put on in one quick motion.
Back in March, the Gates Foundation to design a condom that men
or women would actually want to use. The goal was to develop "new
condoms that significantly preserve or enhance pleasure," the foundation's website.
motivation is simple. The Gates Foundation is one of the biggest
supporters of global health (and a funder of NPR). It figures that if
more couples use condoms, they're less likely to transmit viruses like
HIV or end up with unwanted pregnancies.
The foundation received more than 500 entries for the condom challenge. It announced the 11 winning proposals on Wednesday.
For the next-generation condom, it's all about being thin and strong.
Studies have found that most men prefer a condom that they don't notice, says chemical engineer Mark McGlothlin of in San Diego. But it still needs to be tough enough so it doesn't break or allow pathogens to pass through.
condoms always have a plastic feeling," McGlothlin tells Shots. "We
wanted to make a condom you don't feel when you have intercourse."
Courtesy of Apex Medical Technologies Inc.
Beef tendons or fish scraps provide the starting material for a condom that feels like moist skin.
To do that, McGlothlin has invented a condom made out of the same
material in animal tendons and ligaments: long fibers of protein, called
"We take raw collagen from beef tendons or fish scraps, and
gingerly separate out the fibers," he says. "We form it into a condom
... and when it dries down, it looks like sausage casing."
result, he says, is a material that almost feels like wet skin. "It's a
totally different sensation than a latex condom. It's like rubbing your
hand on a real leather car seat versus one with fake leather. The fake
fabric — and the latex — just feels bad."
Of course, condoms also have to fit right to work. So Ron Frezieres and his team at the have developed a condom that he hopes will be more comfortable and less noticeable for men.
that end, they've redesigned the standard latex condom. "A quarter of
men say they're too tight," he tells Shots. "Our material clings to the
penis so it's not as restrictive."
His design also improves the application of the condom, or
"donning," as the industry calls it. Instead of rolling on, Frezieres'
condom has two tabs on either side that allow men to pull the condom on
like a sock over a foot.
A team in South Africa stuck to the traditional roll-on method, but they've made it faster and easier. The cracks the package open at the center. The condom slides on without ever leaving the foil.
course, all of these ideas are in the early stage of development.
Inventors will still have to develop working prototypes and test them
before they can be produced for public use.
The competition is part of the foundation's .
The goal is to give scientists money to explore quirky ideas that sound
a bit crazy, but if they actually pan out could have a huge impact on
The winning groups of the condom competition
have 18 months to show that their design can be easily manufactured, and
that the device could be safe and effective.
Then each group can apply for a $1 million grant to scale up production and do rigorous clinical trials.
Who knows, maybe in five years you'll be able to pick up a beef tendon condom at your local CVS. Sounds so appealing.