In 2013, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation condom challenge brought a wealth of attention to the need for more innovative contraception. About five years before that, LELO, a Swedish company that specializes in adult toys, had already set their sights on this issue. "The availability of condoms is not, today, a problem at all," Filip Sedic, LELO founder and CEO tells us. "It's not that people can not have them, people don't want to use them.” LELO’s solution? HEX, the futuristic-looking condom that the company is launching today, calling "one of the most important advances in condom technology for 70 years.” But is it really so revolutionary?
HEX certainly looks like a revolutionary condom. This is due to the unique hexagonal structure that lines the inside. According to the company, this structure isn't meant to be felt but will provide extra grip, like tread on a tire. This, says Sedic, should reduce slippage and help with heat transfer (which is key to comfort).
Most condom manufactures focus on thinness. In this aspect, the HEX is nothing special. The web is about 0.055 mm thick and the panels within the web, which make up 96 percent of the condom, are 0.045 mm thick. That's better than most, but a little more than double the thickness of certain "ultra-thin" condoms now available. Sedic points out that HEX is still considered an ultra-thin condom — one that is three to four times stronger than it would be if it was only the thinness of the panels without the thicker hexagonal structure.
Aside from novelty features — such as glowing in the dark or tasting like strawberries — condom design has been a rather stagnant field. The last major progression to make it to market was the switch from animal skins to latex around the 1920s. There was also a good shakeup of the status quo from Durex in the 1950s with the addition of lubricated options. Since then, though, not much has changed.
The good news is that current condom design works. When used properly, condoms can prevent around 98 percent of pregnancies while also offering substantial protection against many sexually transmitted infections (STIs). With the way people typically use them, that drops to about 82 percent, according to the CDC. That is, if people used them.
A 2014 study published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine collected condom use information from men who visited clinics that diagnosed STIs. Through assessing over 17,000 instances of intercourse, the researchers found that the only barrier to perfect use of a condom was the opinion of them. "Clinic attendees may be more likely to use condoms perfectly if three perceptions are reduced," concluded the authors: "I won't use condoms, condoms spoil the mood, and I get turned off when my partner suggests we use condoms."
Whether that opinion can be changed with a new, innovative-looking product remains to be seen.