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A while back, three male students from England’s Isaac Newton Academy came up with the concept of a “smart condom,” the latex of which contained antibodies that would glow different colors when exposed to the antibodies of various sexually transmitted infections (STIs). The condom was called the S.T. EYE, and it won its creators the top prize at the U.K. TeenTech Awards.
Condom companies approached the boys after their win, but while the idea of a color-changing, STI-detecting condom sounds neat (remember, it’s still just a concept at this stage with no actual prototype or plans for production), the reality would have lots of potential drawbacks.
The drawbacks of having an STI-detecting condom
For one, it’s unclear whether the condom would detect the STIs of the condom-wearer or their receptive partner — or both. If a person has more than one STI, would the condom start glowing many different colors?
It’s also unclear how quickly the condom could detect a newly acquired STI, as the body can take a while to develop antibodies to any infection. The condom might not detect an STI until days or weeks after it had been acquired. If the condom doesn’t start glowing at all, that might convince some people they have no STIs, and the wearer might remove it for the rest of their sexual encounter.
Considering that an estimated 75% of the U.S. population has the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) — an STI that can cause genital warts, anal warts or cancer — the condom could very well start glowing the instant most people put it on.
Furthermore, considering the terribleness of American sex education in public schools (and the slut-shaming conservatism of American sex culture in general), a glowing HPV-activated condom could lead users to start freaking out when, in reality, few people with HPV ever develop any symptoms.
Apart from the cultural stigma surrounding them, STIs are really no different from contracting a cold. All the same, the heat of the moment isn’t really the most ideal time to figure out or disclose to someone that you have one.
There’s a better solution that’s just as convenient and revolutionary
For many years, different scientists have tried to perfect the condom — one of the most recent designs used a thin, hexagonal honeycomb shape — but the problem is the condom itself. People don’t want to use them for various reasons, be it an allergy to the material, its snug fit or a loss of sensitivity.
Condoms are a great option for preventing STIs, but instead of a color-changing condom with lots of potential drawbacks, that time, money and antibody-detecting technology might be better invested into at-home STI testing kits (kind of like at-home pregnancy tests). There are already at-home HIV testing kits available online and at drug stores.
An STI at-home testing kit would help people privately figure out if they have an infection and then allow them to take steps to treat and/or cure their STI before they even step into a backroom or bedroom.
Another interesting possibility would be to invest in express STI testing clinics similar to Dean Street Express, a service in London (video above).
At Dean Street Express, people self-register at a quick check-in kiosk; privately swab themselves for any throat, rectal, urine or vaginal samples (following easy-to-follow video instructions); submit their clinical samples anonymously; take a rapid HIV blood test with instant results; and get counseling upon request.
Patients receive their gonorrhea and chlamydia test results via text message soon afterwards and can access their other test results within six hours. It’s quick, inexpensive and makes sexual health treatment as convenient as dropping off film to have it developed — well, back when people still did that sort of thing.
Featured image by pederk via iStock