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Next-generation condoms might feel like human skin

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Researchers hoping to replace latex with hydrogel

Condoms made out of "tough hydrogels" might one day save lives, reduce unplanned pregnancies, and make safe sex a pleasure. A research team from the University of Wollongong is working to replace latex with the biomaterial, which is similar to the kind used in contact lenses. According to a release, the self-lubricated substance possesses a "stiffness similar to body tissues," allowing it to potentially confer greater sensitivity. Hydrogels can also be made transparent and biodegradable to enable environmentally friendly disposal.

stiffness similar to body tissues

Led by Dr. Robert Gorkin, the team plans to identify potential hydrogels and a suitable "material composition" before examining their breaking strength, toughness, feel, permeability, and other properties. The researchers hope to eventually have people moving from "having to" to "wanting to" use this contraceptive method. "It’s really about us challenging our own perceptions, particularly when developing new technologies to be deployed in places like sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia," says Gorken in a statement.

The University of Wollongong's efforts are funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which is offering grants to those aiming to create the "next generation condoms." Should Gorkin's team achieve its goals, it may be awarded a $1 million follow-up grant.