Condoms that generate their own lubrication have been designed by scientists in a hope to make people want to wear them more, and reduce risks of spreading sexually transmitted infections and unwanted pregnancies.
Experts say the condom market is currently lacking a product that is sufficiently lubricated (especially in non-western countries where rubber options are more common than latex), resulting in a greater likelihood of breakage or discomfort.
Even in the UK, where there is a wider range of condom choice, clearly something needs to be done when almost half of young people choose not to wear them during intercourse with a new partner.
At the moment even contraception that does have some degree of lubrication tends to wear off during sex, meaning you have to reapply a separate product, which many people might not have access to or simply not want to buy.
The new condoms are funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation – which has been working on developing the ‘next generation’ of condom since 2013 as well as on reducing the spread of HIV. The design is unique because the condom self-lubricates upon contact with bodily fluid.
And unlike current products, the lubrication should not wear off during sex but stays slippery for up to 1000 thrusts, say the design team. This equates to around 16 minutes of repeated movement.
Research in the 1980s found that most couples only last between 100 and 500 thrusts, meaning the condom should outlast the stamina of most users.
Shop-bought condoms are currently estimated to stay lubricated for around 600 thrusts, says the study in the Royal Society Open Science journal.
The technology is based on ‘hydrophilic’ coatings (the same idea used in urinary catheters to improve comfort). Using water-loving polymers, a substance is bound to the surface of the latex and when this coating comes into contact with other liquids (during sex) it becomes slippery to the touch.
So what are the condoms actually like to use? Researcher Professor Mark Grinstaff, from Boston University, said: “It feels a bit slimy when you handle it dry, but in the presence of water or natural fluids it becomes really slick. You only need a little bit of fluid to activate it.”
And the initial user results seem positive: a group of 33 men and women were asked to test the condoms in terms of ‘slip and slide’ and almost all of them rated them more highly than other brands.
Clinical trials with couples could begin early next year, says Grinstaff.
Meanwhile, researchers at the University of Wollongong in Australia, have been working on making a self-lubricating condom from hydrogels that feel more like real skin.