In a world where your phone gets rendered obsolete every year or so (thanks, Apple), where robots are marching to steal all of our jobs, and where Silicon Valley types are looking to “disrupt death,” it seems like no technology is free from the endless forward march of innovation.
Which makes it weird that the humble condom—from a health and lifestyle perspective one of the most important technologies out there—has gone for decades with barely any significant new developments.
But that’s changing, with new models emerging to change the way we have safe sex.
Californian inventor Charles Powell has designed the Galactic Cap, a new condom-like protective device designed to prevent pregnancy and the transmission of many STIs while leaving much of a man’s penis exposed, to improve the feeling of sex.
"Traditional condoms do a poor job of preventing pregnancy, STIs and HIV," Powell told Australia’s WA Today, "not because they don't work but because most men don't wear them. Our research indicates 96 percent of all men and women dislike traditional condoms largely because they reduce sensitivity during intercourse.”
The Galactic Cap is a small adhesive pad that’s placed over the end of the penis, designed to collect semen.
Len Rowell, an Australian student who has invested $5,000 Australian ($4,020 U.S.) of his own money in the product, told WA Today that he had trialled the product with his girlfriend.
"The first time we were a little bit worried and she didn't trust it," he said. "Both of us were like 'we don't know how much this can take', but over the next month we realised it lasts just like a normal one does. Fifty percent of the head feels everything. It's pretty phenomenal."
Powell hopes to go into large-scale production of the condom, which is currently on sale in relatively small quantities, at the end of this year.
Another company seeking to revolutionise the condom is Lelo, who make high-end sex toys and claim their “Hex” design is “the first major innovation in years.”
It looks much more like a traditional rubber than the Galactic Cap, and is made of latex, but has a distinctive hexagonal cell structure, the idea being that one of these cells can break without compromising the integrity of a whole condom: you can even stab it with a pin without destroying it. (Note, Newsweek does not recommend stabbing your condoms with pins even if it looks cool.)
This makes it strong and allows it to be thinner than most mainstream condoms (0.045mm) without being unsafe, its manufacturers claim. Skeptics point out, though, that as a latex cylinder it isn’t quite so revolutionary as the marketing makes it sound. It’s also endorsed by Charlie Sheen. We’ll leave it to you to decide if that’s a good or a bad point.
It’s proved difficult to revolutionize the condom. A competition launched by Bill and Melinda Gates in 2013 to do just that has yet to produce any market-ready product. In the U.S., the FDA has strict standards for condoms that can be hard to live up to.
But with the possibility of making sex safer and better while earning a lot of money, Lelo and Powell’s products are bound to be just some of the first completed attempts.