For Valentine's Day, the Economist looks at condom innovation

Monday, February 17, 2014

According to the Economist's smart and not-so-subtly cheeky nature, the magazine published an article on condom innovation, funded by the Gates Foundation, for Valentine's Day last Friday. The article briefly examines some proposals that were awarded seed money from the foundation and then discusses the practicality of the push for reinventing the world's oldest contraceptive.

Photo credit: Wikipedia
Some of the proposed innovations are quite fascinating, actually. Proposals include everything from using graphene or collagen to strengthen them, using polymers to allow it self-lubricate or bind spermicides, or using different materials to make it easier to put on or help it stay in place. The main targets for improvement are efficacy (to make it less likely to break, obviously) and, for lack of a better word, "sexiness" - because researchers widely acknowledge that stopping the fun to put one on is a real mood-killer.

The more interesting question, however, seems to be whether or not a better condom will be of interest to the Gates Foundation's target populations in developing countries.
According to the Population Reference Bureau, an American think-tank, 20% of married couples in rich countries use condoms, while 18% prefer the pill—and these two methods are the most popular forms of contraception in such places. In poor countries, intrauterine devices and sterilisation are the most popular methods, and the respective figures for condoms and the pill are 4% and 7%. Moreover, the rapidly falling birth rates in most poor countries suggest that, for family planning purposes, radical change is not needed. So the paradox is that if a better condom does emerge from all this effort, it may be enjoyed more by the rich world’s inhabitants than those of the poor world at whom, at least in Mr Gates’s eyes, it is aimed.
Putting contraception aside, the condom is still one of the best tools for preventing the spread of HIV, so the research will certainly not go to waste.

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