Bill Gates is not being soft as he plans to tackle poverty and disease from another angle; condoms. The Microsoft Boss is giving out grants worth up to $1M for condom innovation and creation. A team from Manchester University are the first to benefit from a generous $100,000 award. This is where the new wonder material of super-light, super-strong graphene has been discovered. It’s a stiff challenge but many are up for it.
Condoms have been with us for a long time, but there is no denying that they are not everyone’s favorite, and the most usual objection is the barrier they place against intimate sensation.
Happy hats, rubber johnnies, raincoats, pecker ponchos, French letters, slickers, scumbags, close combat socks, diving suits, tail sheaths, pipe pullovers; there are many colorful terms for the common or garden prophylactic.
The Portuguese take the most romantic approach to the linguistics of protection with the “camisa de Venus” or Venus shirt, but the South Koreans are not far behind with their “ae-pil” combining the two words for Love and Necessity. In China, some wag at the Guangzhou Haokian condom laboratory launched two new lines called, respectively, the “Bill Clinton” (Ke-li-tun) and the “Lewinsky (Lai-wen-siji).
The centuries of animosity between France and England does not stop at the portals of sexual delight. While the English “Rosbifs” (the slang the French use for the ruddy-faced meat-eating invaders from across the Channel) use Frenchies, the compliment is returned, or not, by the French utilising “La capote Anglaise” or the English cap for the act. Both sides casting a racial slur on the other by the need to protect from the filthy diseases they carry. As for the Australians, they have adapted the name from their country of settlement and made it their own, with the franger.
Which all begs the question, what will they call the super-turbo-charged new and improved, better than ever before graphene condom? It would be nice to think that substantial backer of research and development, Bill Gates, would get a look in – and with his full name being William, which has a popular abbreviation for the part of the anatomy it goes on, possibilities must surely abound.
Condoms have been around since Ancient Egypt, but it was an English Monarch, King Charles II, who can really get the credit for their modern incarnation. He asked his private doctor, the Earl of Condom, to design him something to protect from the dreaded and disfiguring disease of syphilis. The original sheath was made from a sheep’s intestine and then oiled.
Vegetarians who may have been shuddering at some of the ideas being bandied about to manufacture twenty-first century condoms from beef tendon, would not have liked that much either.
However, the courtiers did, they took to these sheep’s guts protectors with vigour although many complained they would lead to the breakdown of society. By the 1800’s it was possible to use rubber, and these were re-useable, although washing was, of course, advised, between uses. The rubber would eventually crack or split which made them pretty useless.
It was the invention of latex that was the next big breakthrough and this didn’t happen until the 1930s. From thereon in, the challenge has been to make them thinner, more pliant, and ultimately, more pleasurable. The pinnacle so far has been the Durex Ultra-Thin. Which brings us to today’s wonder material – graphene. Graphene is going to make the Durex Ultra-Thin seem like the old rubber raincoats of the war years. It is only one atom thick, and hardly even visible to the naked eye. It will have to be combined with latex to make it the thinnest, stretchiest, safest and most sensational condom material ever known.
Now it is not so much Microsoft that micro-fine that is the holy grail as Bill Gates takes on this stiff new challenge in his phenomenal career. To create the condom of the future.
Putting the focus back on the experience between the sheets is at the forefront of all the developers plans. Resistance to condoms is most often blamed on loss of sensation during sex and this is the final frontier they intend to cross. Dr Papa Salif Sow, of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, says that overcoming fumbling, inconvenience and “perceived loss of pleasure” will be a “powerful weapon in the fight against poverty.”
This final frontier, to boldy go into a world where the condom “significantly preserves or enhances pleasure” is the mission statement behind the Gates Foundation grants, and scientists are queueing up to tender for them. There have been 500 applications to date.
Among the ideas are the “Slingshot” from South African company Kimbranox. This aims for a one shot one motion “donning” by snapping the packet at the top of the penis, whereby it pops itself on. Then there’s the “Dynamic Universal Fit” being invented in Cambridge, UK, which gently tightens during intercourse, due to the multiple polymers in its construction walls.
Another concept is to reduce friction, by trapping a thin layer of water in the coating, this comes from Boston University. The “super-hydrophilic nanoparticle” surface then eases any unpleasant rubbing for either partner.
Then there is the bovine fibres design already mentioned, that aims to adapt collagen from the by-products of meat processing to create a skin-like texture that would allow heat to be transferred and feel very natural. This is being worked on by scientists in San Diego at Apex Medical Technologies.
Other forms of contraception are eligible for the grants and female condoms, gels and antiretrovirals are all being considered too. “We are open to any products that will be helpful” says Sow.
The end goal is for people to actually like using condoms and for long-term benefits to all humankind in reduction of HIV and sexually transmitted disease and better family planning. It’s a stiff challenge but if there is a man for the job then who better than Bill Gates, who has all the Microsoft millions to tackle it with. Condoms are about to enter the next phase of their evolution.
By Kate Henderson