The researching team, supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, designed a special, durable coating that should last throughout intercourse.They hope it will make condoms more appealing to use and thereby prevent sexually transmitted infections (STIs) as well as unwanted pregnancies. Lack of lubrication can lead to painful sex, as well as slipped or split condoms.
Many condoms are already lubricated for easy use but it is not always comfortable. Additional lubricants are messy and may need several applications.
The self-lubricating condom becomes really slippery once it comes into contact with body fluid. It can withstand at least 1,000 thrusts without losing its slipperiness. For comparison, shop-bought, water-based liquid lubricants are more slippery initially but decrease after around 600 thrusts.
A group of volunteers were also asked to touch and rate both condoms, in terms of slip and slide. Most of the 33 men and women rated the self-lubricating one more highly.
“It feels a bit slimy when you handle it dry, but in the presence of water or natural fluids it becomes really slick. You only need a little bit of fluid to activate it,” said Professor Mark Grinstaff, from Boston University. One of the researchers.
At the moment, more tests are needed to compare how well the self-lubricating condom performs against other brands of condoms in real-life settings.Clinical trials with couples are tentatively set for the beginning of 2019.
A spin-off company from the university is now planning to develop a product for the commercial market, subject to regulatory approval.
Dr. Nicola Irwin, from Queen’s University in Belfast, is an expert in healthcare materials and technology. She said similar “hydrophilic” coatings have been used in urinary catheters to improve comfort.
“These coated catheters are, in general, associated with a greater degree of user acceptability than the alterative uncoated and gel-lubricated devices. This user preference is mainly due to the reduced levels of discomfort upon insertion, together with the ease of handling and convenience of ‘ready-to-use’ hydrophilic-coated catheters.”
“It may be expected that the newly developed hydrophilic-coated condoms could afford similar benefits, but we need more trials,” she continued.
Meanwhile, researchers at the University of Wollongong, Australia, have been working on making a self-lubricating condom out of tough hydrogels rather than latex or rubber, that feel more like real skin.
Bekki Burbidge, from the sexual health charity FPA, said they welcome new innovations to encourage condom use. Condoms are the only method of contraception that also help to protect against STIs, so comfort is important to encourage constant use.
“Lubrication can make sex more comfortable and enjoyable so we encourage people to try out different water-based lubricants as well as different sizes, shapes and textures of condoms to find out what suits them and enhances their sexual pleasure.”