Killjoy? The next generation condom will be aimed at enhancing sex.

Killjoy? The next generation condom will be aimed at enhancing sex. Photo: Robert Banks

Along with our clothes, many of us abandon our brains in the throes of physical passion. It is, after all, one of the joys of sex; shifting out of our heads and back into our bodies.

Having to bring our brains with us when it's business time and think about say, using a condom for instance, seems contrary to the raw physicality and spontaneity of the pursuit.

And apart from interrupting the thrill of an interlude, they don't feel as good. The very point of sex, for most people, is pleasure, so is it such a surprise that so few are reaching for the wrapper?

User friendly?

User friendly? Photo: Penny Stephens

A feature in The Atlantic last week, titled Why still so few use condoms, said that only around 60 per cent of teens in the US use a condom and this figure decreases as people get older.

In Australia the figures aren't any better. According to the Fairfax-owned RSVP Date of the Nation Report 2012, 51 per cent of Australian singles have had an unprotected one night stand at some stage, while a 2008 survey by Roy Morgan research found only one in five sexually active Australians, aged between 16 and 49, reported having worn a condom in the past six months.

Unsurprisingly, STIs are on the rise.

The number of Australians diagnosed with Chlamydia has increased by more than 340 per cent over the past seven years, while gonorrhoea has increased by 31 per cent.

It is estimated that one in 20 Australians aged 15 to 29 have an STI, and rates are increasing.

Such statistics might help to explain why, as The Atlantic points out, "it is politically incorrect to acknowledge the truth and simplicity of the condom's inadequacy. Criticism of the condom opens one to righteous demonisation and condemnation.

"Condom defenders often stifle honest and helpful discussion about sexuality, unplanned pregnancy, and sexually transmitted infections."

Family Planning NSW's medical director, Dr Deborah Bateson agrees that those who admit to not using condoms are often criticised. "It's important to have a frank and open conversation about it," she says. "We know people are generally happy to buy them and carry them. The problem comes with negotiating using them... it's also important to acknowledge sexual pleasure is a part [of why people don't use them]."

This acknowledgement can be tricky for a medical community who, Bateson admits, is used to saying "'don't do this' or 'don't do that'."

Educating people who don't use protection to get regular STI tests is one approach. But by honestly discussing why, despite a global production rate of 15 billion condoms a year, people are still not using them consistently, we can start to look at solutions, she says.

"Condoms have been around in one form or other for the last 400 years, but there's not been much technological advancement in the last 50 years," Bateson says. "The question is how to apply technology to make them attractive to use."

She wonders whether using condoms "could be eroticised in some way?"

She is not the only one.

Bill Gates is offering a US$100,000 grant through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for someone to come up with the Next Generation Condom.

"We are looking for a Next Generation Condom that significantly preserves or enhances pleasure, in order to improve uptake and regular use," the Grand Challenges brief states.

Among those taking up the challenge are researchers at the University of Washington who are developing a condom using a technique known as electrospinning, which creates nano-scale fibres from liquid.

Wrap your head around that.