Graphene has been hailed as a material of limitless possibilities, but could it also be the material to revolutionize condoms? Bill Gates thinks so.
A graphene condom is one of 11 innovations selected from the 812 ideas submitted to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s contest to create a condom that men would be more likely to use, or as the Foundation puts it, “a next-generation condom” that could also “significantly preserve or enhance pleasure.”
Graphene was first devised by Andrei Geim and Kostya Novoselov of Manchester University, in the UK, who created layers of graphene by repeatedly sticking and peeling back a kind of sticky tape from flakes of graphite. The material is super strong — weight for weight about 100 times stronger than steel — and can be fashioned to be incredibly thin.
Graphene is currently being trialed for use in a number of products, for instance creating paper thin and flexible smartphones, as well as in solar panel technology, and for use in non-stick pan coatings.
Now, a scientist from Manchester University, Dr Aravind Vijayaraghavan, believes that graphene could be used to make condoms thinner, more durable and potentially more pleasurable.
He is quoted as saying: “This composite material will be tailored to enhance the natural sensation during intercourse while using a condom, which should encourage and promote condom use. This will be achieved by combining the strength of graphene with the elasticity of latex to produce a new material which can be thinner, stronger, more stretchy, safer and, perhaps most importantly, more pleasurable.”
The chosen 11 received $100,000 from the foundation to develop their ideas, and could stand to gain $1 million if the projects they are developing have promise.
Another winner of the grant is Benjamin Strutt of the UK’s Cambridge Design Partnership who aims at designing a “universal fit” condom that will gently tighten during intercourse to ensure reliability.
Several other applicants are aiming to move away from latex altogether to find other materials that can be used while keeping latex’s advantages, including what has been called a “reconstituted collagen condom” designed by Apex Medical Technologies of San Diego — that might be made from cow tendons or possibly from a fish derivative. I think I’ll pass.
Other designers are interested in exploring polyurethane as a possible latex substitute, again aiming to develop a one-size-fits-all condom that adapts to fit the man’s specific anatomy.
Meanwhile, Willem van Rensburg of South Africa has been given the grant to test a condom applicator called the Rapidom which, with its small tabs, is designed to reduce condom application to one simple motion that, it is hoped, would encourage more people to use condoms.
Other ideas that are being pursued include condoms that carry nanoparticles of antiviral drugs, helping to further reduce infections, and condoms that can be easily applied in the dark without having to resort to glow in the dark technology.
While this might all sound quite bemusing, there is a serious side to condom innovation. The aim is to make men more likely to use condoms by removing the common problems: that condoms are awkward, ungainly, interrupt the moment and reduce sensitivity.
Through condom innovation, the Foundation wants to improve sexual health for everyone, but in particular encourage at-risk populations, like men who have sex with men and sex workers, to use condoms more frequently and therefore protect themselves from a variety of health problems, including the risk of HIV.
It is also hoped that through innovating this aspect of sexual health, there will be the adjoining benefit of improving the lives of women and children by capping population sizes and therein ensuring better resource management, education and health care.
This is part of a wider initiative by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation that is trying to encourage innovation in a variety of different areas, from collecting accurate social data to improving the lives of women who manage farms.
Photo credit: Thinkstock.