A standing ovation for Mr. Popular, please! The original material used for condoms was invented 180 years ago today, purely by chance, when Charles Goodyear dropped a piece of rubber onto a hot stovetop. The result: a completely new form of rubber.
But there are plenty more reasons to give the good old condom a round of applause. After all, it was a revolution in contraception; cheap, reliable, easy to use – and offering protection against sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
No wonder that over five billion condoms are sold every year – the female condom not included. But like all great inventions, there’s room for improvement. And the most important idea in recent years has been the material that condoms are made from.
The condom of the future
Most of the condoms you can buy are made from latex. But many people are allergic to the material, and others simply don’t like the feel.
The most common alternatives to latex condoms are all made from synthetic materials. Like the condom designed by US scientist Mahua Choudhury. Her product is made from hydrogel, the same as soft contact lenses. The material is just as soft and flexible as latex, and most important of all, it’s just as strong – yet it’s mostly composed of water. So there is a high chance that it is biodegradable, too!
In addition, Mahua Choudhury’s condoms will likely contain a very special ingredient in the future: antioxidants, or flavonoids to be more precise. These plant substances are found in many types of fruit, vegetables, and grains. Flavonoids had been largely ignored by condom manufacturers until their role in protecting against the HI virus became known. And this is why they will be found in hydrogel condoms in the future. The science in the background is that if a condom does happen to break during sex, the flavonoids it contains attack the virus and reduce the risk of infection.
And there’s more: Flavonoids can also enhance feelings of pleasure by promoting muscle relaxation while boosting blood flow. At the same time, they indirectly help to maintain erection. Pretty good side-effects, huh?
Of course, condoms also involve the little matter of friction.
To help things go smoothly during sex, many couples use lube to help latex condoms glide more easily. The problem there is that water-based lube quickly loses its effectiveness, wears off, and is reabsorbed by the body. Even silicon-based lubes wear off over time. Researchers at Boston University tackled the problem and came up with a condom with a new type of self-lubricating coating that becomes extra-slippery only when it comes into contact with bodily fluids.
Moist and slippery for longer
The result has a similar feel to conventional lube, with one important difference: the coating remains effective even for extended lengths of time. As the researchers’ long- term tests showed, this new super-condom stays slippery even after thousands of skin contacts. According to the scientists’ report in specialist journal “Open Science,” 73 per cent of participants in touch tests said they would consider using the coated condom.
So what's the catch in the condom revolution?
The only problem is that these two new super-condoms aren’t available yet. But you can still choose your favorite condom from an array of materials – latex or latex-free, synthetic or natural – and a whole host of colors, thicknesses, flavors and sizes.
There’s a condom out there that’s perfect for you!
Top condom questions: How can I check if a condom is safe to use? Can you use a condom under water? Do condoms break and slip off frequently? Can I reuse a condom? Check out our FAQs to get answers.