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Frezieres and his colleague Terri L. Walsh conducted studies involving condoms with lubricants that create a heating sensation. “Some people said, ‘This is burning me,’ ” he said, but others reported a mild, pleasant feeling or even more intense orgasms. On the other hand, as Walsh pointed out, a stimulating condom could make matters worse for men with premature ejaculation, so for them, the question is, “How much more exciting do you want to make a condom?”
Another testing quandary, Spieler said, is that “you can’t compare one sex act to another sex act. You can come into a sex act having just argued and having makeup sex. You could have three days of bad sex, so you don’t rate the condom you’re testing very well.”
That has not stopped innovation in the condom industry. There are vibrating condom rings like the Durex Play – Ring of Bliss, said Bidia Deperthes, a senior HIV technical adviser for the U.N. Population Fund. (Spieler calls her “the condom czarina.”) Some men invariably gripe about the battery life: “Bidia, 20 minutes, it’s not that long.” Her response: “Guys, give me a break. Fifteen minutes is already flattering you.”
Deperthes, whose office features a wall of condoms, has versions packaged like lollipops, miniature chocolate milk cartons and cellophane-wrapped taffy.
And what’s that pinned to her silk blouse? A brooch of batik fabric. But on the flip side of the pin is, yes, a condom. Talk about wearable art.
One unsuccessful innovation was the Hat condom, resembling a little shower cap, designed, said Frezieres, “to fit just over the tip,” to “provide maximum sensation.” Alas, “in clinical testing, couples experienced difficulty keeping the Hat condom from popping off,” he said.
‘Great concept’ falters
Another idea was the spray-on condom, applying liquid latex to create a condom shaped for the man using it. “Great concept,” Frezieres said. But it did not have a tip to collect fluid, and “we were like, how do you get it off afterward?”
One promising design, already available in some parts of the world, is the Pronto 4:Secs condom, its box decorated with racy Dick Tracy-esque cartoons. 4:Secs, its name both a pun and the time it is supposed to take to put on, is a condom in a plastic applicator resembling a life preserver.
“This is really cool,” said Deperthes, demonstrating how the applicator splits apart to allow the condom to be put on right-side up.
And perhaps the most innovative new American-made product is the Origami condom, still in clinical trials. Its inventor, Danny Resnic, said he was motivated by his own experience when “a latex condom broke and I wound up with an HIV diagnosis.”
Years of experimenting led him to devise a condom with accordionlike pleats, loose to allow movement inside. Made of silicone, which is meant to feel more like skin, it “goes on in less than a second,” he said, and “there’s no wrong way to put it on.”
The Gates Foundation contest also welcomed designs for female condoms, but female condoms have historically been less popular.