Scientists create self-lubricating condom in hopes you’ll actually use it

Latex is the standard material for condoms, but the synthetic substance is known for being pretty dry — not great considering how condoms are used.

Scientists from Boston University have now created a latex coating that automatically lubricates the rubber sheath. The coating, with the catchy name HEA/BP/PVP, makes the condom slippery when it comes into contact with moisture. The idea is that this decreases friction pain during sex, hopefully encouraging more people to use condoms in the first place.

Condoms are one of the lesser-used methods of birth control — a 2015 UN study found that only 8% of married or in-union women worldwide relied on male condoms, and methods for men, like vasectomy or the male condom, only accounted for 21% of all contraceptives. This is because other methods of contraceptive are deemed more reliable.

The material also has the benefit of making the latex even more durable. “The coating provides consistently low friction even when subjected to large volumes of water or 1000 cycles of articulation.” That’s according to the sexily-titled project study, published in the Royal Society Open Science journal. (‘Friction-lowering capabilities and human subject preferences for a hydrophilic surface coating on latex substrates: implications for increasing condom usage‘). In comparison, a traditional condom lasts around 600 ‘cycles of articulation’ (ahem, thrusts).

This research was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The foundation, which focuses on healthcare-related issues, has donated over $1.3 billion (£1bn) in the past to STD control ventures. The hope is that the new coating will increase condom use, and therefore lower the proliferation of nasty STDs.

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The study cites a ‘touch test’, in which 33 people preferred the feel of the HEA/BP/PVP to traditional condoms, agreeing that a condom that remained lubricated for longer would be preferable.

However the study admits that since the condoms are not currently available on the market, and that these people didn’t use the condoms for their intended purposes, their preferences must be taken with a grain of salt.

FDA approval would be required before the condoms could be used by the public, for which clinical trials could begin in 2019. This isn’t the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s only venture into birth control — in 2013 it provided grants to 11 companies and individuals hoping to make “the condom of the future”, although many of the groups have since stopped working on the projects.

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