Swinburne researchers develop next-generation of condoms

Wednesday 9 December 2015

A high angle shot of a person using the EEG to test their brains response to the next-generation of condoms

Brain imaging technology is being used to assess how pleasurable the new hydrogel material is, compared to traditional latex.

In summary

  • Swinburne is working with the University of Wollongong to create a more pleasurable condom
  • They are using a hydrogel material
  • The researchers are using EEG machines to test the preference to the hydrogel

This year over 27 billion condoms will be sold. But still not enough are being used. Despite their effectiveness, the latex condom, invented almost 100 years ago, hasn’t changed much.

Researchers at Swinburne University of Technology are tackling this issue by developing the next-generation of condoms.

Working in collaboration with the University of Wollongong, the team of researchers are using a new ‘hydrogel’ material.

The hydrogel, which is much thinner and stronger than latex condoms, is being developed in the hope of improving sensation and ultimately increasing condom usage around the world.

‘Hydrogels are mostly made of water, held together by molecular chains called polymers. They have properties very close to human tissue, and can be tailored to feel a lot like skin,’ says Bridgette Engeler Newbury, one of the project leads at Swinburne.

To measure the preference to this new material, Swinburne is using neurological equipment to test the hydrogel. The test involves participants touching the different materials with their finger.

After a successful pilot study, which saw participants respond positively to the hydrogel, the study has been opened up to a larger sample. 

Swinburne’s Dr Joseph Ciorciari, Director of the Brain and Psychological Sciences Centre, who is leading the testing phase of the project, says that the electroencephalography (EEG) was allowing neuroscience to measure how pleasurable the hydrogel was, compared to latex.

‘The EEG allows us to measure the brain’s subconscious responses to the material, before the participant has even had the chance to decide whether or not they are going to respond positively to it,’ Dr Ciorciari says.

‘This removes any bias or pre-existing influences from the equation.

‘Measuring changes in brain activity is an effective way of determining whether or not the hydrogel is more preferable than existing condoms.’

The trial is being funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, under the Grand Challenges and Explorations Grants, which foster innovation in global health resources and is being conducted within Swinburne’s Centre for Design Innovation.