Condoms of the Future: Safe Sex Gets a Space Age Makeover

This article discusses a mature topic. Our 17-year old and younger readers are encouraged to read this with an adult.

Facebook just turned 10 years old this month, and while I’m loving everyone’s “Facebook movies,” it’s also made me think about how much has changed in the world of sexual health in the last ten years. No co-pay birth control became a reality for millions, thanks to the Affordable Care Act. The rates of teen pregnancy and abortion declined to their lowest rates in 3 decades. The Federal government provided funding for comprehensive sexuality education programs. A new type of IUD made specifically for teens and a new birth control implant became available. Emergency contraception was approved for sale over the counter for all ages. And the female condom changed from polyurethane to nitrile.

What will the next ten years of sexual health bring? Will there be male contraception? Will gender stereotypes be a thing of the past? Will we be flying shuttles to space to get STD testing? In this months’ Ask Elizabeth column, I’ll be answering some questions about what the future of condoms and birth control may hold.

Do you have a question that you’d like to see answered in this column? Send them to me at [email protected].

Q: I heard there was a contest to develop a better condom. What will the condoms of the future be like?

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation held a contest to challenge innovators to create a better condom. They have awarded funding to 11 researchers, all of whom have set forth on the journey toward a better, more pleasurable condom. The condoms under research include a shrink-to-fit condom (just like Levi’s!), an animal collagen condom, a self-lubricating condom, and a pull-tab condom to help put it on quickly. All of these ideas are still in the early stages of development and then need to move on to testing for safety and effectiveness, so it will be a while before we see any of these at the drug store or your local Planned Parenthood. Another condom may be on the market sooner, as early as 2015. The ORIGAMI condom is currently in clinical testing phase and would be the first non-rolled (which means its placed on the penis without having to unroll it), silicone condom. There are male and female versions and a version specifically made for anal sex.

In the meantime, we know that both men and women face a lot of pressures to not use condoms, and we can’t just wait around for these new technological developments. The latex, polyurethane, nitrile, and polyisoprene condoms that are currently available still do a great job of preventing pregnancy and protecting against STDs. Just as importantly, communicating with your partner and regular testing can help you now and into the future!

 Q: What will my birth control options be in the future?

There are lots of birth control options available for females, and the future will likely hold many more. This advancing technology is important because everyone has the right to plan their families and access contraception when and if they are ready. Some options we may expect in the future include a new type of patch with a lower dose of hormones and a vaginal ring that lasts up to one year (compared to the current ring that lasts one month). There may also be a new one-size-fits-most diaphragm, which would be another option for females who don’t want to use a hormonal method.  For male birth control, we will continue waiting a lot longer, but some researchers believe that it may be possible in the next 10 years.

For now, all FDA-approved methods are available at your local Planned Parenthood health center. Though current birth control methods and the ones expected in the near future are designed for female use, it’s important to remember that both partners can and should be involved in deciding on contraception methods. Family planning is everyone’s right and responsibility.

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