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Gates Foundation Searches for the Next Generation of Condoms

leonkaye headshotWords by Leon Kaye
Investment & Markets

Condoms have been around for over 500 centuries, and have certainly advanced since they were made out of various materials such as oiled silk paper, lamb intestines or, in what most likely led to a birthrate spike in Japan, tortoise shell. They evolved during the syphilis outbreaks in Europe during the 15th century and morphed into the conveniently packaged prophylactics found everywhere today.

But apparently, condoms are still not convenient enough for many men in both developing and developed countries despite the fact that sexually transmitted diseases and AIDS always loom as health threats. The tired old excuse that condoms decrease pleasure ends up as the biggest excuse behind men’s refusal to use them. And whether one believes that is a ridiculous reason or not, a more perfect condom could benefit global public health if the results included lower rates of STDs and unplanned pregnancies.

To that end, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has unwrapped a plan to develop the next generation of condoms.

While just about everything else packaged and wrapped has changed immensely the past few decades, condoms really have not changed much the last half century save the proliferation of brands and increased public acceptance.

The answer to an upgrading of the condom and increased usage? A new condom that “significantly preserves or enhances pleasure” with the added value of more regular use. And as Papa Salif Sow and Stephen Ward explain on the Gates Foundation’s blog, in a perfect world, the best condom would be one both men and women would prefer to no condom at all.

So for the Grand Challenges Explorations Round 11, budding entrepreneurs only need to fill out a two-page form and present ideas for a future men’s or women’s condom that could include the following attributes:


  • Safe and new materials that increase and enhance sensation

  • New condom shapes and design that would improve, of course, the “user experience”

  • The application of ideas from other fields of science such as neurobiology to the development of new methods that would encourage the consistent use of condoms

As with past Gates Foundation Grand Challenges, the winning idea will receive a $100,000 grant with the possibility of up to $1 million for additional future funding.

This challenge is following on the heels of the increased number of companies creating improved and even more sustainable condoms. Seventh Generation founder Jeffrey Hollender is on a path to develop and market more environmentally and socially responsible  condoms that do not use child labor; French Letter condoms are ethically sourced, boast a fair trade certification, and are even considered vegan.

Should this latest Grand Challenge succeed, the effects will go beyond the clear benefits to public health. A next-gen condom, if widely accepted, would create economic opportunities, too, as new marketing opportunities could open up to sell to men who long shunned prophylactics.

The deadline for proposals to build a better condom is May 7.

Based in Fresno, California, Leon Kaye is the editor of GreenGoPost.com and frequently writes about business sustainability strategy. Leon also contributes to Guardian Sustainable Business; his work has also appeared on Sustainable BrandsInhabitat and Earth911. He will speak at San Francisco State University on climate change, the media and business on Wednesday, April 3. You can follow Leon and ask him questions on Twitter or Instagram (greengopost).

[Image credit: Wikipedia]

Leon Kaye headshotLeon Kaye

Leon Kaye, Executive Editor, has written for Triple Pundit since 2010. He is also the Director of Social Media and Engagement for 3BL Media, and the Editor in Chief of CR Magazine. His previous work can be found at The GuardianSustainable Brands and CleanTechnica. Kaye is based in Fresno, CA, from where he happily explores California’s stellar Central Coast and the national parks in the Sierra Nevadas.

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