It’s no secret that when it comes to condoms, the pleasure factor plays a big role – some people simply don’t want to use condoms because it diminishes their pleasure. With that in mind, researchers from Australia are now working to create condoms that feel just like bare skin… or even better!

Different types of existing condoms – all made from Latex. Image via Wikipedia.

This year, over 27 billion condoms have been sold, but that’s not nearly enough. The effectiveness of condoms isn’t called into question, but the design of the product has remained largely unchanged for the past century. Scientists from Swinburne University of Technology in Australia want to change that and develop condoms using a material called hydrogel that feels just like human skin, and has some amazing properties.

Hydrogel is a term generically used for solid, jelly-like materials with a range of special properties.

“Hydrogels are mostly made of water, held together by molecular chains called polymers. They have properties very close to human tissue, and can be tailored to feel a lot like skin,” says Bridgette Engeler Newbury, one of the project leads at Swinburne.

In this case, the hydrogel doesn’t only feel as good as nothing at all, but can also be laced with medicine to fight sexually transmitted infections. It’s also tougher and thinner than latex – the material currently being used for condoms.

“Hydrogels are mostly made of water, held together by molecular chains called polymers,” Newbury added. “They have properties very close to human tissue, and can be tailored to feel a lot like skin.”

But before they move on with their design, they have to answer a deceivingly complex question: how good do the hydrogel condoms actually feel?

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In order to answer this question, they used EEG scanners to see how a person’s brain responds when they touch different materials (with their hand).

“Measuring changes in brain activity is an effective way of determining whether or not the hydrogel is more preferable than existing condoms,” said Joseph Ciorciari, who is leading the brain scan study.

Using neuroscience to gauge how nice different materials feel was his idea, and after the first tests were promising, they moved on to a larger sample size.

“The EEG allows us to measure the brain’s subconscious responses to the material, before the participant has even had the chance to decide whether or not they are going to respond positively to it,” Dr Ciorciari says. “This removes any bias or pre-existing influences from the equation. Measuring changes in brain activity is an effective way of determining whether or not the hydrogel is more preferable than existing condoms.”

The trial is being funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, under the Grand Challenges and Explorations Grants.

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