by Prof. Scott Thompson-Whiteside
Why is this important?
The male condom is a cultural icon in most parts of the world. It revolutionised birth control and the transmission of sexual diseases. When used consistently and correctly, condoms are the best prevention the world has against the sexual transmission of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, as well as others forms of sexually transmitted diseases.
This year over 27 billion condoms will be sold. But still not enough are being used. Despite their effectiveness, practicality and convenience, the latex condom, invented almost 100 years ago, hasn’t changed much. Different kinds of condom from thinner or flavoured to textured and more durable are available, but problems still exist with latex as well as perceptions about how well they work (and feel!).For example, approximately 1-3% of the population is allergic to latex. It’s also easily damaged and less reliable when used with oil-based lubricants, lotions or creams as they can cause slipping or breaking. While latex rubber is bio-degradable, a latex condom contains preservatives and stabilizers that make it harder to break down.
Polyurethane condoms were developed but they’re more expensive and not widely available in many parts of the world. They tend about as thick as latex condoms but are less sensitive to temperature and UV-light. They can also be used with oil-based lubricants. However, they’re less elastic than latex condoms and more prone to slipping or breaking, and they’re not bio-degradable.
Researchers at the University of Wollongong in Australia are working on Project Geldom, a project to develop a new type of material for making condoms. Project Geldom is researching and testing a water-based hydrogel that will have no allergic reactions to the skin. The hydrogel could potentially be made into thinner, more stable, more durable condoms that are completely bio-degradable.