The current condom has been in use for about 400 years, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation believe that it's time some improvements have been made. The foundation is offering $100,000 to the individual who can come up with a better condom.
"The idea of a condom that men would prefer to no condom is a revolutionary idea, but we know more today about sexual function than at any time in the past, and advances in relevant disciplines such as neuroscience, vascular biology, urology, reproductive biology, materials science, and other fields can contribute to new and unconventional approaches," the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation wrote on its blog, Impatient Optimist.
The organization posted the appeal for the next-generation prophylactic for the latest round of its Grand Challenges in Global Health initiative. While they lauded the need and use of the current condom -- which has about 750 million users and is produced at rates of 15 billion units annually -- the foundation cited problems like inconsistent use because condoms supposedly diminish pleasure and improper use, especially of female condoms. Female sex workers still have a hard time trying to get their clients to use condoms, and often put their health and lives at risk because of the aversion to use the prophylactics.
While the use of latex has only been introduced in the last 50 years, the organization believes it's time to introduce entirely new materials and product designs.
The prize money can go to anyone who can come up with a new way to use safe materials that keep or enhance sensation, create a new design that aids in the user experience and/or someone who uses information from other areas like medicine or science to make condoms more appealing. The person who submits the proposal must include a testable hypothesis and a way to go about testing or validation, and be able to produce usable data in a Phase I testing environment that will encourage more testing.
Non-technological, social or educational proposals or products that will be too expensive for a real world setting will be disqualified. Also, items that are currently commercially available will not be considered. If the condom takes away prevention for unplanned pregnancies or HIV infection, it won't be considered for prize money.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation cited several examples of new condom technologies including Multi-purpose Prevention Technologies (MPTs) which combine birth control methods and STD prevention. Researchers at the University of Washington are working on a condom that created out of a fabric of polymer strands that can contain spermicide or microbicidal agents in addition to sexually transmitted disease protection through a process called "electrospinning." Another company, called Origami Condoms, has come up with a new, accordion like design that may change how we think and use condoms.