Better, Safer Sex: On the Hunt for a Condom People Will Actually Like

When biomedical engineer Robert Gorkin saw the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s 2013 call for submissions for a next-generation condom, he was hardly a contraceptive innovator. Rather, his work focused on 3D-printing organs and prosthetics. But when he reviewed the initiative’s goals — funding would be awarded to applicants who proposed a pleasurable, easy-to-use condom, thus encouraging regular use worldwide — Gorkin, a research fellow at Australia’s University of Wollongong, saw an opportunity. The materials he and his team used to make prosthetic organs had physical similarities to human tissue and skin. Why couldn’t he engineer a condom with these same products to create a prophylactic that felt like the user wasn’t wearing one at all?

So Gorkin submitted his proposal for a hydrogel condom, a material both durable and touch-sensitive, and he and ten other applicants were awarded $100,000 to continue development. Six years later, Gorkin is still working. Consumers aren’t yet able to find his stretchy, skin-like prophylactic at drugstores, but he’s getting close: Gorkin’s condoms are heading into clinical trials this year, he says, which puts his invention about two or three years away from mass consumption.“We’re looking at a new condom platform that is to replace the legacy materials of latex with a new experience,” Gorkin says. “We approached this not just as a scientific innovation, but as what does a condom need to be?” (Three other grant recipients received phase-two funding of $1 million each and progressed to the clinical trial stage, according to the Gates Foundation.) Read more via Rolling Stone