MIT May Have Found the Secret to Better Condoms

Researchers developed a durable gel coating that reduces friction.

MIT Hydrogel

Photo by Felice Frankel

The brilliant scientific minds at MIT have created everything from a device that can make pharmaceuticals on demand to a pill powered by stomach acid. They may even be on their way to curing Alzheimer’s and autism next.

So what are they working on now, you ask? Answer: a gel coating that could make for better condoms.

In fairness, the slippery yet durable substance—technically called a hydrogel laminate, and described in detail in a study published in Advanced Healthcare Materials—was designed to coat medical devices such as catheters and IV tubes to reduce friction and make patients more comfortable. The gel could also be infused with pharmaceuticals, researchers say, for targeted drug delivery.

Conveniently, those same qualities make it a viable candidate for improving upon the old latex condom.

“Our first major focus was catheters, because they are rigid and not very comfortable, and infection of catheters can cause around 50 percent of readmissions to hospitals,” lead author German Parada says in a statement. “We also thought we could apply this to condoms, because existing latex condoms cause lots of sensitivities and allergies, and if you can put drugs in the gel, you could have better protection.”

The hydrogel laminate is comprised of a layer of elastomer (a polymer such as rubber, silicone, or latex) squished between two layers of hydrogel (a slippery, water-based polymer). The result is a substance that can be moved, stretched, and twisted without breaking, but that acts as a lubricant for the objects it coats. The solid elastomer layer also keeps out viruses and other contaminants, a must for anything used in medical settings.

There’s no word yet on when the gel might actually make its way to mass market. But keep an eye out—it may soon be sliding into a hospital or convenience store near you.