Hydrogel is a squishy, slippery polymer material that consists mostly of water. Engineers bonded it to elastomers, such as latex or rubber, to create “hydrogel laminates”. These laminates are not only soft and stretchy, but also impermeable to viruses and other small molecules. When it comes to condoms, this is obviously ideal.
While they’ve also been designed for catheters and surgical tubing, researchers say this kind of material is a natural fit for condoms. This is because the material can help boost the comfort of latex condoms by reducing friction. The laminates are also remarkably durable – there weren’t any tears in the material when the researchers inflated a coated condom.
Bonus: researchers say the hydrogel can be embedded with drugs to treat a latex allergy. “Our first major focus was catheters, because they are rigid and not very comfortable, and infection of catheters can cause around 50% of readmissions to hospitals,” says lead author German Parada. “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.” Safety first.
Researchers also say the hydrogels can be designed to be more or less slippery, depending on the amount of friction desired. Choose your own adventure…