The human skin condom
It’s not actually made from human skin. But it is made to feel like human skin, as much as possible. The human skin condom is a research project at a university in Australia that aims to produce condoms which people will actually want to wear, rather than condoms they feel they have to wear.
A team of researchers from the University of Wollongong, led by Dr. Robert Gorkin, is investigating the use of hydrogels to make a polymer sheath that looks, feels and acts like human skin.
Gels are networks of polymers linked together around an extensor – a material that acts as a kind of filling. In hydrogels, that extensor is water.
It’s that use of water that makes hydrogel materials feel so natural. Water makes up a significant proportion of the gel and that makes the material feel very much like human skin, which also has a high water content.
The Australian team is identifying the most suitable hydrogels for use in the condom. The hydrogels investigated here have huge stretch-potential: up to an astonishing 1000 times their original dimensions. However, one important hurdle is that hydrogels tend to be superabsorbent.
Advantages of these hydrogels are that they tend to be strong, flexible, thin and tough. They can also be biodegradable and self-lubricating. Most importantly, they feel so natural that people won’t notice them, the researchers hope.
For their work, the scientists have received funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to help develop the human skin condom. The idea could help with the uptake of condoms in areas most affected by AIDS, such as sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia.
Find out more on the human skin condom in this video.
Info via University of Wollongong. Images via creative commons licence.