Bill Gates wants you to invent the condom of the future

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is funding a global health initiative to build a better, sexier condom

Published March 25, 2013 8:20PM (EDT)

Sex (as long as it is consensual) pretty much always feels good. Because, you know, it is sex.

But global public health advocates understand that due to cultural stigma, social pressure and generic "it just doesn't feel the same" whining, people still aren't using condoms at the rate that they could be given how widely available they have become.

So with that in mind, the Grand Challenges in Global Health Initiative, with support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, put out a call for a better designed, more pleasure-inducing condom. The challenge is to make an experience-enhancing condom that will make men and women go weak in their desire to have protected sex! For the good of humankind!

The problem (emphasis mine):

The one major drawback to more universal use of male condoms is the lack of perceived incentive for consistent use. The primary drawback from the male perspective is that condoms decrease pleasure as compared to no condom, creating a trade-off that many men find unacceptable, particularly given that the decisions about use must be made just prior to intercourse.  Is it possible to develop a product without this stigma, or better, one that is felt to enhance pleasure?  If so, would such a product lead to substantial benefits for global health, both in terms of reducing the incidence of unplanned pregnancies and in prevention of infection with HIV or other STIs?

Likewise, female condoms can be an effective method for prevention of unplanned pregnancy or HIV infection, but suffer from some of the same liabilities as male condoms, require proper insertion training and are substantially more expensive than their male counterparts.  While negotiating use of female condoms may be easier than male condoms, this need for negotiation precisely illustrates the barrier preventing greater use that we seek to address through this call.

As for the solution? That's where the condom of the future (and you) come in:

The Grand Challenges Initiative is asking participants to create a new condom that preserves or even enhances pleasure in order to encourage more people around the world to use them regularly. The Initiative is also seeking out designs for male and female condoms that are better packaged and significantly easier to use.

There have already been advances made in condom technology, representatives for the foundation say, citing Origami Condoms (which are still waiting FDA approval) for promoting "consistent use by emphasizing the sexual experience" rather than just the pregnancy-busting, STI-preventing features.

And it isn't just global health do-gooders who are pushing for better designs that will appeal to condom-averse types. As Salon reported earlier this year, transmission rates of STIs and unintended pregnancies remain high among certain groups, even in places where condoms should be readily available:

"The U.S. continues to grapple with high rates of sexually transmitted infections, HIV, and unintended pregnancies,” said lead researcher Dr. Debby Herbenick. “We need to understand how people make choices about the products they use (or avoid using) and how these products contribute to the safety and pleasurable aspects of their sexual experiences. This is particularly important as the products themselves evolve and become more mainstream in American society. We also need to understand what men and women know, or don’t know, about the products they use so that we can better target public health education messages to individuals and groups."

By Katie McDonough

Katie McDonough is Salon's politics writer, focusing on gender, sexuality and reproductive justice. Follow her on Twitter @kmcdonovgh or email her at

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