11 Great (And Not-So-Great) Condom Innovations

In recent years, scientists and inventors have begun to rethink the traditional condom, with results ranging from the sublime to the downright silly. Some designers have hit the mark by redesigning the female condom and developing a shape-fitting condom that aims to greatly reduce instances of condoms breaking or sliding off due to poor fit. Other condoms, however, run from ridiculous to dangerous.


THE GOOD: One-Handed Condom Wrappers

man opening condom package with one hand
Ben Pawle

People often get into the trouble the moment they open a condom package, either tearing the condom or ripping it accidentally with their teeth.

To this end, London-based designer Ben Pawle decided to start from the top by creating a condom wrapper that can be easily opened with one hand. According to the designer, he had envisioned a product that could, in his words, "preserve the dignity" of those living with hemiplegia (i.e., the paralysis of either one side of the body or the next) by providing them an easier means by which to remove and apply latex condoms.

While the product is still only a prototype, it suggests a thoughtful alternative to the not-always-so-easy-to-use packaging found on most condoms today.

Availability: Prototype only


The NOT-SO-GOOD: Scroguard Scrotal Shield

Scrogard on a mannequin

"Never have sex again" is how some bloggers responded when first saw the Scroguard scrotal shield, and it's hard for us to disagree.

Created by two Atlanta-based entrepreneurs, the Scroguard shield was envisioned to provide added protection against genital herpes, syphilis and human papillomavirus (HPV) by completely covering the genital area.

Beyond the mere fact that the awkward-fitting design offers little in the way of any real, "added" protection, it inherently suggests that condoms fall short, playing into long-standing and often misguided fears about the risk of sexually transmitted infections.

Not surprisingly, according to the company disclaimer, the Scroguard "has not been evaluated or approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for the mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease."

To make matters even worse (or at least more bizarre), the manufacturers state the product can make "farting noises" if air is trapped inside.

In short, there are far better ways to spend your $19.95 than this.

Availability: By mail order


THE GOOD: Wingman Condoms

Man demonstrating the wingman condom
Wingman Condoms

Let's face it. Anyone who has ever used a condom has, at one time or another, either put a condom on upside down or struggled to roll it over the shaft of the penis.

And while ​a number of designers have taken a shot at creating easier-to-apply options (including the South African inventor whose Pronto condom went viral on YouTube and ended up winning support the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation), pretty much all of them have gone bust, unable to gain either significant market share or FDA approval.

One product that has made it to market is the Wingman condom. Designed by Adrian Tunovic, a Dutch engineer, the Wingman has a wing-like device attached to the condom that allows you to hold the wings with one hand and unroll the condom over the penis quickly and smoothly.

Cleverly designed and packaged, the Wingman condom retails for roughly $16.99 for a box of 12, not including shipping.

Availability: U.K. and Europe, with overseas shipping available from wingmancondoms.com.


THE NOT-SO-GOOD: Rape-aXe Anti-Rape Condom

Rapex condom sitting on a table

This one is a little too easy to make jokes about and, to be honest, it is one of the more disturbing concepts we've seen.

To give it its fair due, the Rape-aXe Anti-Rape Condom was conceived in response to the high rate of rape in South Africa. According to a 2003 report, 40 percent of women in the country has been a victim of rape, translated to one rape every 36 seconds.

That certainly provides an impetus for action, but is this truly it?

Designed by Sonette Ehler, a former medical technician, the Rape-aXe condom is worn like a standard female condom but with 25 razor-sharp teeth implanted inside. When a penis is inserted, the teeth grab on and stay on—hopefully,​ long enough for the woman to escape.

Given the likelihood of added violence, a number of activists had argued that the Rape-aXe is not only potentially dangerous to the woman but places the burden of stopping rape on the woman rather than on the civil society.

In the end, all of this may be academic since the much-publicized device, meant for release in 2007, has yet to find its way to market.

Availability: Announced but never released


THE GOOD: Self-Lubricating Hydrogel Condoms... With Viagra?

pen failing to push through a Hydrogel condom
Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation issued a $100,000 challenge in 2013, calling for "the next generation condom that significantly preserves or enhances pleasure" and promotes "regular use."

To this end, one of the more intriguing offerings was from scientists at the University of Wollongong in Australia, who proposed the use of self-lubricating hydrogels which are not only extra strong but are engineered to feel more like natural tissue.

Fully biodegradable, the condoms aim to enhance sexual pleasure while offering the same or higher levels of protection as latex. At the same time, the hydrogel polymers are said to be able to transdermally deliver a dose of Viagra.

And while this latter property may be more of a publicity gimmick—since Viagra takes at least 30 minutes to work, and really you need an erection before you put on a condom rather than after—it is intriguing to think what other drugs may able to be administered in this fashion.

Availability: In development


THE NOT-SO-GOOD: Galactic Cap Condoms

Galactic cap illustrated demonstration
Galactic Cap

As a condom alternative, this product raises more questions than it answers.

Created by Los Angeles inventor Charlie Powell, the Galactic Cap condom first attracted attention after mounting a successful $100,000 crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo in 2014. While many seem intrigued in the Galactic's pared-down design—essentially a reservoir cap that covering just the head of the penis, secured by a U-shaped adhesive strip—other, like us, began to wonder who exactly it's meant for.

Sure, freeing the penis shaft of latex can certainly be appealing on paper, allowing for skin-on-skin sensation. But latex condoms are meant to cover the penis specifically to prevent skin-on-skin infections that can occur during sexual intercourse, including genital herpes, syphilis, and human papillomavirus (HPV).

As for HIV, the virus can potentially infect the so-called Langerhans cells beneath the male foreskin, so covering just the head potentially leaves an available route for infection in uncircumcised men.

And while, sure, it's interesting the Galactic Cap can be put "on hours or even days in advance," according to the inventor, and that you can even bathe and urinate in it.. why would you want to?

Some have suggested that the Galactic Cap was made in response to the AIDS scare in the porn industry and that a barely-there condom could very well be embraced by that industry.

But should it?

Availability: In development, reportedly in preparation for clinical trials


THE GOOD: Adaptive, Shape-Fitting Condoms

illustration of how the shape memory condom works
Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

Condom sizing is a bigger problem than one might think. If a condom is too tight, it can cause discomfort or burst. Too loose, and it risks either falling off or lessening sexual stimulation.

In response to this problem, a team for the University of Oregon is​ creating an ultra-thin, heat-sensitive condom able to conform to the shape of the wearer's penis. This "one-size-fits-all" concept, which was among the recipients of a 2013 grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, employs next-generation adaptive polymers which are reported to be as much as 50% thinner than commercially available latex condoms.

According to the researchers, the polymers could also accommodate nanoparticles containing drugs to combat sexually transmitted bacteria and viruses.

Availability: In development


THE GOOD(ISH): VivaGel Anti-Viral Condoms

Vivagel tube

In June 2014, the VivaGel condom (marketed under the name Lifestyles Dual Protection) was approved for use in Australia as the first anti-viral condom designed to be "99.9 percent effective" in killing HIV, herpes simplex (HSV) and human papillomavirus (HPV).

VivaGel itself is a sexual lubricant that contains nanoscale dendrimeric molecules that bind to viruses and prevent transmission to vulnerable tissue. While research has shown that it does, in fact, have strong anti-viral properties, VivaGel has yet to receive approval in the U.S., and there is little known about the drug's impact on the vulnerable cells of the vagina and cervix.

In the past, a few microbicidal agents (including nonoxynol-9) were shown to increase HIV risk by causing the inflammation of the epithelial tissues of the female reproductive tract.

Until further research can confirm little or no such risk, it's likely premature to support a product which seems great on paper but still has a few hurdles to jump before receiving FDA approval.

Availability: In Australia at a retail price of $10.99 for a 14-pack box


THE GOOD: Elliptical Female Condoms

female condom
VFemale Health Co.

It's not unusual for people to dismiss the female condom, and that's a shame. Despite generally low uptake in developed countries, the United Nations and others have made the concerted push to increase access in the developing world, where female sexual disempowerment can often be high. With the introduction of the FC2 female condom (made of less costly nitrile materials), it is hoped that popularity among at-risk women may continue to rise.

Meanwhile, others have begun to rethink the female condom altogether. One of the concepts, designed by researchers at Indiana University, proposed a version which is contoured to the shape of the vagina to ensure not only smoother fit but, presumably, increase sexual stimulation by moving away from the baggy, tubular versions currently available.

This no-brainer concept has already attracted a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, while the research team is reportedly working with European condom manufacturer, TheyFit, to bring the condom to market.

Availability: In development



3 origami condoms
Origami Condoms

This one for us is good and not-so-good.

The good is that the Origami Condom, which received early funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, was a clever and radical re-thinking of the traditional condom. With its supple silicone construction, it promised to be not only easy to apply and use but able to increase sexual stimulation with it ridged, accordion design. We loved it.

But then things went question awry. At the end of January 2015, after allegations of financial misappropriation, Origami inventor Daniel ​Resnic was reportedly ordered to return nearly a half million dollars in taxpayer funds that he had received from the National Institutes of Health to bring the products to market.

At the same time, the Washington Free Beacon reported that Resnic has apparently dropped plans to use silicone and return to traditional latex for his male condoms. If true, Resnic would likely be able to avoid costly clinical trials and instead aim to prove that his latex version is equivalent to latex condoms already on the drugstore shelves. If so, he can go straight to the market and start selling.

A shrewd move, perhaps... but certainly not the basket of goods we had been sold on.

Availability: Uncertain


THE SIMPLY BAD: The Condom Thong

Condom thong on a mannequin


The condom thong, invented by medical students in South Medical University in Guangzhou, China, received a $300,000 investment after having entered a nationwide competition to create China's "next-generation of condoms."

Dubbed the Eros Protector, the G-string design was seen to be the no-brain solution to preventing condom slippage, while the all-covering condom presumably hides the unsightly male genitalia from direct view?

Again we ask... why?

Availability: Unknown

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