A new self-lubricating latex could drive greater use of contraceptives, according to the team of scientists behind the invention.
Researchers at Boston University have developed prophylactic sheaths from a specially treated membrane which becomes slick and slippery in the presence of natural bodily fluids.
The new material was described in a paper published in the Royal Society Open Science journal.
Unlike lubricants based on water or oils, the new latex developed by the team retains its lubrication almost indefinitely because it is hydrophilic and attracts water.
"A majority of participants [in the study] – 73% – expressed a preference for a condom containing the lubricious coating," concluded the study.
The study participants agreed "that an inherently slippery condom that remains slippery for a long duration would increase their condom usage," its conclusion added.
"Such a coating shows potential to be an effective strategy for decreasing friction-associated pain [for women and men] and increasing user satisfaction."
Condoms are used to prevent pregnancy and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, and can be made of lambskin or commonly synthetic materials such as latex or polyurethane.
These materials could cause chaffing, however, during what the researchers describe as "repeated articulations" or thrusting motions, thus requiring lubrication – which wears off.
Discomfort and reduced pleasure during sexual intercourse – noted by 77% of men and 40% of women in a US survey – are regularly cited as reasons why people do not use condoms.
The new condoms developed by the research team, led by Mark Grinstaff at Boston University, tackled the problem by adding a special treatment to the condoms.
By treating the latex with a thin polymer coating of molecules which trap liquid rather than repelling it, the team were able to develop condoms that provide "consistently low friction even when subjected to large volumes of water, or 1,000 cycles of articulation".
Volunteers involved in "touch tests" for the new material "expressed a strong preference for condoms that were 'inherently slippery' and remained so for a long time" according to the study.
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However, because the material has not been approved by US regulators, it has yet to be scientifically tested during intercourse.
More than 90% of the study volunteers said they would consider using the self-lubricating condoms, however, and half added that their condom use would increase if they were available commercially.