Condoms have been around for centuries, but they haven't improved much in the last 50 years. People know they should use them, but for various reasons many just don't. So a Grand Challenge was issued: make the condom better! Here are 5 condom ideas that made the cut.
1. The Rapidom
Designer Willem van Rensburg shows off a Rapidom diagram.
One problem with condoms is putting them on incorrectly. (Not everybody has practiced extensively with fruit in a sex-ed class—and even those who have can easily mess up in the dark.) Enter Kimbranox, a South African company that has designed an easy-on condom package. Dubbed the "Rapidom," the package includes little handles that make applying the enclosed condom a kind of point-and-shoot affair.
Bonus points: the applicator won Most Beautiful Object in South Africa, speaking to both its beauty (it appeared in a MoMA exhibition) and its importance in HIV protection. There's also a demo video showing the application technique in a lab setting.
2. The Graphene Condom
Researcher Lakshminarayanan Ragupathy of HLL Lifecare Ltd.
In 2004, scientists isolated graphene, an extremely thin-but-strong layer of crystalline carbon—and in 2010, two physicists won the Nobel Prize for that work. Now researchers in India want to put it in the bedroom.
HLL Lifecare Ltd. are working to add graphene into condoms that can be thinner than current latex offerings, and also conduct heat better. While the research is experimental, it's a promising idea; graphene is unbelievably strong (roughly 100 times stronger than steel) and could lead to a nearly indestructible condom.
3. The Gradually Tightening Condom
Researcher Benjamin Strutt at work.
Note: before reading about this condom, you may wish to crank up "Tighten Up" by Archie Bell & The Drells.
Researchers in the UK are experimenting with anisotropic composites (translation: materials that are variably strong, depending on the direction of the force applied to them). Because intercourse involves a predictable, um, direction of force, a condom built using these composites could gradually tighten around the wearer during intercourse. This helps reduce fluid exchange, improve fit, and could also improve sensation.
4. The Nano-Lubricated Condom
Drs. Ducksoo Kim and Karen Buch, developers of the nano-lubricated condom.
Lubrication is a slippery subject. Long story short, condom lubrication is helpful not just for pleasure, but also to prevent the condom from breaking. Researchers at Boston University Medical Center are working to create a coating of super-hydrophilic nanoparticles (translation: ultra-thin layer of trapped water). The coating is created using nanofabrication technology, and promises to be a more resilient form of lubricant than what we use today. The result? Less breakage.
5. The Beef Condom
A prototype of the collagen condom.
Apex Medical Technologies in San Diego is working to create an "Ultra-Sensitive Reconstituted Collagen Condom," in which collagen fibrils enhance the condom's strength. Okay, but where does that collagen come from? It's a byproduct of beef processing.
Leftover beef tendons are cheap, and they're also strong natural materials. By embedding very thin fibers from them in a cross-linked pattern, a strong-but-thin organic material is created. Researchers also note that the "micro-rough" quality of collagen is great for heat transfer, which lends itself to a plethora of "hot beef" jokes that we'll leave to your imagination.