Budding inventors, here’s your chance at immortality. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is offering to pitch in $100,000 of initial seed money to anyone who can design a new and improved condom.
For millions of people practicing safe sex around the world, a better condom could mean a possible end to latex allergies and, if the design does the trick, a much better time in the sack.
But the impetus behind this call to invention is far more serious and noble. Through its latest “Grand Challenge Exploration,” the Foundation hopes to curb the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and prevent unwanted pregnancies around the world by creating a prophylactic that people actually want to use.
“It may seem obvious, but the success and impact of any public health tool hinges on that tool being used consistently and correctly by those who need it,” reads the accompanying article linked by the Foundation’s website.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has made enhancing healthcare a significant part of its mandate. As the largest private foundation in the world, trustees Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffet oversee a $36.2 billion endowment to encourage the world’s best creative and scientific minds to come up with groundbreaking ways to improve the world.
So while a condom may not seem like top priority in the face of more immediate global calamities, the potential to help stave off the spread of HIV in places with high infection rates and curb overpopulation is nothing short of urgent.
“Women, particularly those in high-risk groups such as commercial sex workers, often face difficulties negotiating condom use; the fact that the term 'condom negotiation' even exists and is so common in discussions about HIV prevention or reproductive health speaks to the central shortcoming of our current generation of condoms,” the article continues.
“The undeniable, and unsurprising, truth is that most men prefer sex without a condom, while the risks related to HIV infection and complications of unplanned pregnancy are disproportionately borne by their partners.”
While the Foundation notes that there have been some improvements in condoms over the years, they’re looking for a model that men would actually choose to wear over no condom at all.
So what would that new condom look like – and more importantly, what would it feel like?
For starters, it would increase sensation to encourage men to strap one on before sex. It would also provide pleasure to the condom-wearer’s partner.
“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,” the description reads. “Is it possible to develop a product without this stigma, or better, one that is felt to enhance pleasure?”
The rest of this future condom, as the Foundation notes, is up to the brilliant scientific minds of today.
Have any bright ideas? There’s a two-page application form here. Or you could simply leave your suggestions below.