Male condoms are inexpensive, easy to produce and distribute, they are available all over the world, even in remote and resource poor settings.
Currently, about 15 billion condoms are produced each year and there are an estimated 750 million users. According to Grand Challenges in Global Health, it is a steadily growing market.
Condoms are nearly universally recognized. When used correctly, condoms can protect females from becoming pregnant and both sexual partners from several sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV. Nowhere in the world is a prescription required to obtain a condom.
Unlike other contraceptives or STI-preventive products, condom usage is not linked to adverse events.
With all these advantages, the male condom is the ideal multi-purpose prevention technology (MPT) product, especially in low-resource areas.
The problem with condoms is the male perception of decreased pleasureThe major obstacle to condom consistent usage is that men say they get more sexual pleasure without them. Given that the decision on whether to use a condom is made a few minutes or seconds before intercourse, it often remains unused.
Could we develop a Next Generation Condom that enhances pleasure? One that men would keenly use. If so, the benefits to global health would be huge, both in terms of reducing unwanted/unplanned pregnancies, HIV transmission, and other STIs.
What about female condoms? - they need to be inserted properly, this needs training. They are not cheap. A significant number of men don't like them. According to Grand Challenges in Global Health "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."
The ChallengeCondoms started being used for contraception about 400 years ago. Over the last five decades, they have undergone very little technological improvement, except for the use of latex as the primary material.
Over the last 50 years, our knowledge of material science and neurobiology has undergone a "revolutionary transformation", especially during the last decade. Unfortunately, none of these scientific breakthroughs has been applied to "one of the most ubiquitous and potentially underutilized products on earth".
Today we can rapidly test new concept designs with new materials. We do not need lengthy clinical trials with thousands of participants. Everything is already in place - manufacturing capacity, marketing and distribution channels.
Grand Challenges in Global Health says:
"We are looking for a Next Generation Condom that significantly preserves or enhances pleasure, in order to improve uptake and regular use. Additional concepts that might increase uptake include attributes that increase ease-of-use for male and female condoms, for example better packaging or designs that are easier to properly apply.
In addition, attributes that address and overcome cultural barriers are also desired."
For any proposal to be considered, it must:
- Have a testable hypothesis
- Have details of an associated plan on how to test and validate the idea
- In order to be considered for Phase II funding, it must yield interpretable and unambiguous data
- The use of new materials that may enhance or preserve sensation. These materials must be safe.
- Development and testing of new condom shapes which can improve the user experience
- Improving condom desirability by applying knowledge from other fields, including vascular biology or neurobiology
- Exclusively educational, social or non-technological interventions
- Testing of products which are already commercially available
- Proposals where the hypothesis or testing plan to overcome compliance (adherence) issues are not clearly laid out
- Concepts which would be beyond the budgets of people or health authorities in poorer parts of the world
- Ideas which would undermine the value of condoms as effective contraceptive devices and protectors from HIV infection
A study published in The Journal of Sexual Medicine reported that most American males and females rated sex as equally arousing with or without condoms and/or lubricants.