Scientists at Boston University have a created a self-lubricating condom which they hope will bolster safe sex and encourage condom usage.
Mark Grinstaff, a professor of chemistry, biomedical engineering, and medicine at BU, co-led an interdisciplinary team that has worked on this project over the past three years.
“The thought is if people would use condoms more regularly and be more satisfied with the performance when using condoms, that would increase their usage and decrease the chance of HIV and other diseases being spread,” Grinstaff said.
A paper published Tuesday in the British journal Royal Society Open Science gave insight into the new design, which involved coating a typical latex condom with a polymer. This traps a thin layer of water at the surface, causing the condom to become slippery in the presence of moisture, water, or bodily fluids.
The paper noted that though condoms are effective in preventing unplanned pregnancies, a 2008 study of American adults found that even the process of putting on a condom was a “turn-off” as a result of discomfort and a lack of adequate lubrication.
“The standard condom is a latex condom and it comes with silicone oil as the lubricant,” Grinstaff said. “The problem with silicone oil or any other types of personal lubricant is that they come off during intercourse and therefore you lose the lubrication properties over time.”
The project was funded with a $100,000 grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
In August, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported a fourth year of sustained increases in STDs across the nation. There were more than 1.7 million cases of chlamydia diagnosed last year and a 67 percent increase in gonorrhea diagnoses between 2013 and 2017, from 333,004 cases to 555,608 cases. Syphilis in newborns is also on the rise. Aside from the addition of flavors or colors there has not been a substantial innovation in the condom industry in more than 50 years, since the introduction of silicone oil-based lubricants, Grinstaff said.
They haven’t tested the products with couples yet, but they held a study with individuals where they put the condoms in vessels of water and had people feel their consistency with their fingers.
Each person was given three pieces of latex — one nonlubricated latex condom, one with a personal lubricant applied to it, and the self-lubricated condom developed by Grinstaff’s team.
An estimated 85 percent of those that participated said the self-lubricating condom remained slippery longer than the other products. The next step is a marketing study with the hope of having a product out within two years. The team is partnering with a Boston-based startup called HydroGlyde Coatings, whose CEO, Stacy Chin, is one of the authors on the paper.
“We need something to help revitalize people’s perspective around condom usage,” Chin said.