Self-lubricating latex could boost condom use

Desiree Burns
October 20, 2018

This novel condom can stay lubricated for over 1,000 thrusts, say researchers.

"Maybe this can have a chance to increase condom use and prevent the spread of HIV and other diseases", Mark Grinstaff, a bioengineering professor at Boston University who led the study team, told NBC News.

Last year, almost 2.3 million sexually transmitted diseases were diagnosed in the US. The design is unique because the condom self-lubricates upon contact with bodily fluid.

The team had 33 people feel the condom, although they couldn't test it in real-life action without permission from the Food and Drug Administration.

In a step away from the traditional water- or oil-based condoms now on the market, a team of scientists from Boston University has created a condom that is self-lubricating, becoming slippery when it comes into contact with moisture - for example, bodily fluids.

This research was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Experts say the condom market is now lacking a product that is sufficiently lubricated (especially in non-western countries where rubber options are more common than latex), resulting in a greater likelihood of breakage or discomfort. Grindstaff said, "The idea was could we come up with technology where the condom would be kind of self-lubricating?" 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 numerous groups have since stopped working on the projects.

The results of the study that tried the usage of these novel condoms were published in the latest issue of the Royal Society Open Science journal.

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Grinstaff said they results were a pleasant surprise. That is sufficient to wet the surface of the condom.

The condom also held up with the new compound on its surface.

The researchers developed and optimized a surface treatment technique that involves the coating of natural rubber latex with a thin layer of hydrophilic polymers that, upon contact with water, become slippery to the touch.

This won't work for polyurethane condoms, Grinstaff said.

One of the graduate students working in Grinstaff's lab, Stacy Chin, has helped found a company to commercialize the product.

The researchers have already filed a patent for the idea, and hope their self-lubricating condoms will be on the market within the next two years.

And the initial user results seem positive: a group of 33 men and women were asked to test the condoms in terms of "slip and slide" and nearly all of them rated them more highly than other brands.

"Condom-associated discomfort is a common "turn-off" and a highly cited reason for persuading one's partner to forgo using condoms, so many individuals choose to use lubricants to decrease this discomfort", the team wrote.

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