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Saving sex with science

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Loads of people say it ‘thank God for the ABC’, this time it’s Local radio ABC Illawarra 97.3FM.

I’ve just read this online article and I’m sure loads of people will get excited – pardon the pun!

It seems UOW – produced condom is set to revolutionise sexual health.

Here’s the story from Justin Huntsdale

A University of Wollongong-produced condom that could revolutionise sexual health is in the running for a funding grant that will help move the product from the laboratory to retail shelves.

Dr Robert Gorkin from the University of Wollongong has been working on a new condom that feels more life-like. The project is designed increase the uptake and regular use of condoms. (ABC:Justin Huntsdale)

Biomedical engineer Dr Robert Gorkin has found himself at the forefront of an industry he probably never thought he’d be in – sex.

Along with his team at the University of Wollongong’s Intelligent Polymer Research Institute, he’s been developing a new type of condom that feels lifelike, but offers even more sexual health protection than a latex condom.

He makes them from hydrogels – soft, squishy tissue-like material consisting mainly of water and with similar mechanical properties to rubber.

“Latex feels like a rubber glove, but this [hydrogel] doesn’t, and that’s the beauty of it,” he says.

“We can re-imagine what a condom may be like by just changing the material, and hopefully we can make sex better.”

He figures that should also result in more widespread use of condoms, a lower rates of sexually transmitted diseases.

Last year his team was awarded one of 52 worldwide grants from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to develop their Next Generation condom.

They’re now seeking support for another grant through Thinkable, which would contribute almost $15,000 to their project.

“We need some more money to apply for major funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and these funds will help us to take it to the next level,” Dr Gorkin says.

How the condom works

The Next Generation condom is made from a hydrogel material that is much like the common contact lens.

It’s a clear, soft plastic that feels almost invisible to the touch, yet still withstands the strict testing for strength and permeability applied to commercial latex condoms.

“We’re getting these prototypes tested on the existing equipment that condoms are tested on right now,” Dr Gorkin says.

“It’s a leap for us for credibility, and we’re building momentum towards taking this to a product.

“We’ve had basically the same type of condom for a long time, why are we limited to that?”

Through hoping to improve the experience of one of mankind’s most primal desires, Dr Gorkin has now found himself in the sex business.

“We’ve talked to condom companies and people in the street and everyone says a better feeling condom is needed.

“We have increasing rates of chlamydia and STDs, and this is a premium product but also something that could be used in other areas.”

Costs likely to be comparable to latex condoms

If the Next Generation condom hits supermarket shelves in the future, it should be a similar price to regular latex condoms.

Dr Gorkin says the only issue will be building up the manufacturing facilities which are currently devoted entirely to producing latex – a rubber product.

“There’s existing supply networks of latex and major manufacturing but these are synthetic materials so they’re made a different way.

“We don’t think the cost will be too much more in the long run, but it will take time.

“We have to deal with manufacturing and regulations, but if it happens, it shouldn’t be a limiting factor in getting this to the public.”

Practical testing

There will come a time soon when the researchers will be looking to finally put the condoms to practical use.

Soon they’ll be hosting focus groups where people will simply feel the hydrogel material compared to latex and offer feedback.

Beyond that, they’ll move onto ‘clinical trials’, hopefully complete with mood music and oysters.

They’re also developing ways of embedding the condoms with anti-HIV drugs, or even dabbling in chemicals that can enhance sex.

“With latex, you coat it with a lubricant, but with hydrogels you can put agents inside the condom and release it,” Dr Gorkin says.

“Or think of Viagra – it wouldn’t be a suitable candidate, but other things like that that get the blood flowing.”


CLICK HERE for the full story and link to original story from 97.3 ABC Illawarra.

30 Jul, 15

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