In the future, condoms will lubricate themselves — and you’ve got Bill and Melinda Gates to thank for it. Well, them and some smart chemists from Boston University. As part of a brief put out by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for ideas to encourage condom use, Boston University chemist Mark Grinstaff and colleagues set about trying to come up with a way to make condoms more comfortable to wear.
While most commercially available condoms use a silicone oil coating as a lubricant, this doesn’t necessarily hang around for the whole, err, session. Instead, Grinstaff and associates have created a special coating which responds to bodily fluids by becoming more slippery than Mark Zuckerberg at a privacy summit.
“The idea is to develop an improved condom whereby the condom itself has a slippery surface, thus added lubricants like silicone oil are not needed,” Grinstaff told Digital Trends. “We have coated the condom with a polymer which holds onto water molecules, and thus a thin layer of water resides on the surface of the condom to provide lubricity.”
The researchers tested the friction that resulted when rubbing the polymer-coated latex over a surface resembling skin for around 15 minutes. After this time, the polymer-coated latex generated approximately half the friction compared with standard latex which had been lubricated with water. Non-treated latex with a commercially available lubricant performed better at first, but after the 15-minute test period was still not as effective as the newly developed polymer-coated latex. The new material additionally scored well when people were asked to rate its slipperiness. A massive 85 percent of test participants described it as more slippery than the non-treated latex with added lubricant.
“The next steps include manufacturing the condom under [good manufacturing practices] and conducting a marketing study with couples,” Grinstaff said. “One of the authors on the paper, Dr. Stacy Chin, has started a company, [Hydroglyde Coatings], to develop a self-lubricating condom. In fact, she has a new formulation that performs even better.”
The paper describing the work, “Friction-lowering capabilities and human subject preferences for a hydrophilic surface coating on latex substrates,” was recently published in the journal Royal Society Open Science.