Condoms: they’re cheap and accessible, easy to make, and, aside from abstinence, they’re one of the most effective means of preventing sexually transmitted diseases and unplanned pregnancy. However, none of these features matter when condoms go unused.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s recent challenge has called on everyone and anyone to design the next generation condom to make it more effective, and more widely used. The main goal is posed as:
What if we could develop a condom that would provide all the benefit of our current versions, without the drawbacks? Even better, what if we could develop one that was preferred to no condom?
One of the main obstacles seen in condom use is a preference, usually among men, to avoid using condoms because they don’t provide the same pleasure, sensation, or intimacy. This tradeoff – safe sex for a ‘compromised’ experience – is often seen as unacceptable.
So what can be done to promote greater use and thus more effective condoms? Some of the early designs are looking at providing better sensation, easier application, and more appealing packaging.
Origami Condoms is among the more impressive redesigns, aiming to provide greater pleasure and easier use. The condom, which folds and unfolds like a piece of paper, is designed to provide a more natural and pleasurable experience for both men and women through its reciprocating motion and internal lubrication. The Origami Condom also boasts easier application in that it slides on as opposed to rolling like a traditional condom – making it less likely to ‘ruin the mood.’
Another entrant comes from The Slingshot Channel, which has devised a contraption to apply traditional condoms for you. Resembling a slingshot or rubber band gun, the trigger-activated device applies the condom in one swift motion avoiding the hassle trying to properly get one on. Admittedly, however, it looks potentially hazardous from a male point of view, with a few ‘kinks’ to work out.
Others have taken a more liberal approach to improving condom ‘technology.’ For Irina Blok, designing the next generation condom has more to do with the packaging than the product. She believes low condom usage is due to boring packing rather than unsatisfying products. Her entry, as seen below, involves creating ‘compelling artwork’ to encourage people to use condoms.
With a $100,000 startup grant on the line, and a further $1 million in potential funding, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation are sure to get a wide variety of entries – which is just what they’re looking for.
We hope this GCE call will provide a thought-provoking challenge to innovators from many areas who may never have thought about how they could build a better condom.
With 34 million people in the world living with HIV according to a recent UN report, the next generation condom may just be the simplest and most effective form of increasing population health. You might think that with major condom brands already working on it, the best version may already be available. Maybe. But maybe a new perspective will provide something new and even better. What do you think it will look like?