When you hear the term “next-generation condom,” beef tendon probably isn’t the first thing that pops into your mind.
But a condom made from the cow part is one of 11 ideas to win$100,000 from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in its reinvent-the-condom competition.
Another winning proposal uses a material that shrinks when it warms up on the body so it provides a perfect fit. Yet another team combined opening the condom package with application — in a single quick motion — so there’s no more fumbling in the dark.
No more fumbling in the dark? South African designers have developed a condom that you crack and put on in one quick motion.
Back in March, the Gates Foundation challenged scientists to design a condom that men or women would actually want to use. The goal was to develop “new condoms that significantly preserve or enhance pleasure,”according to the foundation’s website.
The motivation is simple. The Gates Foundation is one of the biggest supporters of global health (and a funder of NPR). It figures that if more couples use condoms, they’re less likely to transmit viruses like HIV or end up with unwanted pregnancies.
The foundation received more than 800 entries for the condom challenge. It announced the 11 winning proposals on Wednesday.
For the next-generation condom, it’s all about being thin and strong.
Studies have found that most men prefer a condom that they don’t notice, says chemical engineer Mark McGlothlin of Apex Medical Technologies Inc. in San Diego. But it still needs to be tough enough so it doesn’t break or allow pathogens to pass through.
“Current condoms always have a plastic feeling,” McGlothlin tells Shots. “We wanted to make a condom you don’t feel when you have intercourse.”
Beef tendons or fish scraps provide the starting material for a condom that feels like moist skin.
Courtesy of Apex Medical Technologies Inc.
To do that, McGlothlin has invented a condom made out of the same material in animal tendons and ligaments: long fibers of protein, called collagen.
“We take raw collagen from beef tendons or fish scraps, and gingerly separate out the fibers,” he says. “We form it into a condom … and when it dries down, it looks like sausage casing.”
The result, he says, is a material that almost feels like wet skin. “It’s a totally different sensation than a latex condom. It’s like rubbing your hand on a real leather car seat versus one with fake leather. The fake fabric — and the latex — just feels bad.”
Of course, condoms also have to fit right to work. So Ron Frezieres and his team at the California Family Health Council have developed a condom that he hopes will be more comfortable and less noticeable for men.
To that end, they’ve redesigned the standard latex condom. “A quarter of men say they’re too tight,” he tells Shots. “Our material clings to the penis so it’s not as restrictive.”