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11/21/2013

Bill Gates wants a better condom. Maybe one made from cow fibres.

Condom

As I've written on this blog before, the Gates Foundation is looking for a new and improved condom. Why? Because condoms are amazingly effective when it comes to preventing STDS and deadly diseases like HIV. But nobody wants to use them.

"The common analogy is that wearing a condom is like taking a shower with a raincoat on,” Dr. Papa Salif Sow, the foundation's senior HIV program officer, told the Guardian. “A redesigned condom that overcomes inconvenience, fumbling or perceived loss of pleasure would be a powerful weapon in the fight against poverty.”

So the Gates Foundation issued a challenge to the brainy-but-bawdy thinkers among us: make safe sex better. The contest to design a better condom, part of the Grand Challenges Explorations program, attracted a total of 812 applications, according to the New York Times. Eleven were picked and given $100,000 each to take their idea from the drawing room to the bedroom.

Some of the next-generation condom ideas that are now $100,000 closer to your nightstand:

A condom made from cow fibres or fish skin

According to the New York Times, this "ultrasensitive reconstituted collagen condom" will feel like human skin but be made from what is apparently the next best thing: collagen fibres taken from cows' Achilles tendons. (The designer has also apparently floated the idea of using fish skin).

"The feel of it, the heat transfer of it, and to the touch, it feels very much like skin," Mark McGlothlin with Apex Medical Technologies told the New Republic.

McGlothlin said he gets his beef tendon from a Chinese food store (although the Times reported it was a Vietnamese grocery) and it makes for an "unbelievably strong" product. "I could yank all day and not break the thing," he said.

A condom designed to provide a "universal fit"

Dreamt up by Benjamin Strutt and his team of UK-based designers, this condom will be made from a "composite anisotropic material" that will fit any man and "gently tighten during intercourse, enhancing sensation and reliability." They say function and performance issues will be identified by "consulting with users" (how exactly does one get a job as a condom consultant?).

A one-motion condom applicator

Thanks to an applicator called "Rapidom," putting on a condom will someday be fumble-free, doable in one swift (and sexy?) motion.

Kimbranox Ltd. in South Africa promises the applicator will be "technique free" -- words people usually don't like to associate with sex but, in this context, is a very good thing. "Manual applications of condom takes time, which can lead to incorrect positioning as it interrupts the sexual act, and current applicators require good technique," says the project description on the Gates Foundation website.

For a graphic explaining how the applicator works, the New Republic has a photo.

A super-thin condom that is only one atom thick

Two projects propose revolutionizing the condom by using a new (and Nobel Prize-winning) material called graphene -- a "magic, super-strength membrane that is barely there at all," as the Guardian reports. According to one of the project descriptions on the Gates' website: "Graphene is a single-layer, crystalline form of carbon that is highly elastic and very strong. It also conducts heat."

Bendy, durable and heat-conducting? Check, check, check.

Jennifer Yang is the Star’s global health reporter. Follow her on Twitter: @jyangstar

 

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