Condoms
Shutterstock

It’s kind of alarming that so many of our solutions for improving public health and slowing population growth depend upon the humble condom. They do the trick, a certain percentage of the time, but they’re not exactly towering triumphs of design — ribbing for her ostensible pleasure aside, substantive improvements to the condom stopped at the invention of latex and quality control.

The Gates Foundation wants to change that: It’s offering a $100,000 grant for developing “the next generation of condom.” Solar-powered cyborg Voltrondoms that transform into a robot nanny in the event of failure will probably be considered, but that’s not what it’s after; all it wants is a condom that actually makes sex feel better.

The one major drawback to more universal use of male condoms is the lack of perceived incentive for consistent use. 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.  Is it possible to develop a product without this stigma, or better, one that is felt to enhance pleasure?  If so, would such a product lead to substantial benefits for global health, both in terms of reducing the incidence of unplanned pregnancies and in prevention of infection with HIV or other STIs?

Alternately, you could develop a female condom that doesn’t completely suck out loud in every respect, but ha ha ha ha ha.

If you’ve got what it takes to make “a Next Generation Condom that significantly preserves or enhances pleasure,” you don’t need to have prototypes or large-scale clinical trials or manufacturing ideas to win those $100,000 clams (hee hee … clam). The Gates Foundation will take care of all of that for you. You just need a hypothesis about something that will make people more likely to use condoms — improved materials, better design, even sneaky packaging and marketing schemes — and a plan for how to test it. We suggest “vigorous boning.”