Love & Sex

Can This New Wearable Device Replace the Condom?

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One ring could prevent pregnancy and HIV transmission.

The problem with condoms is that all genders complain about using them. Whether they're being maligned for being tight, smelly, or a major boner-killer, the time for an innovation in safer sex has long been overdue. Which is why the development of a wearable device that can protect against both pregnancy and the transmission of HIV is one of the most buzzworthy steps towards smarter sex in a long time.

Released in a paper on PLOS ONE yesterday, Northwestern University biomedical engineer Patrick Kiser revealed his concept for a 5.5 cm intravaginal ring (IVR) that contains the hormone levonorgesterol and anti-retroviral drug tenofovir. The ring, placed easily inside of the vaginal canal, would last for up to 90 days. Since both the hormone and HIV drug have vastly different properties, the ring has dual reservoirs that dispense the drugs in different quantities, insuring that a woman is not exposed to more hormones than she needs. This contraceptive device, which has been in the works for five years, is the first of its kind to tackle both pregnancy and the AIDS crisis.

Kiser claimed to Popular Science that there's been a resurgence in the development of HIV prevention recently. On the other hand, the innovation of IVRs has stalled since their invention in the 1970s. The most popular IVR, NuvaRing, a hormonal contraceptive ring, has recently been under fire due to patients (rightfully) suing them for cases of blood clots, stroke, heart disease, and in severe cases, death. Merck, NuvaRing's parent company, will have to dole out a whopping $100 million in settlements for product liability lawsuits.

Kiser, whose device utilizes two drugs already approved by the FDA, hopes his unique IVR will not meet the same fate. The new vaginal ring is set to apply for FDA clinical trials this year, backed with funding by CONRAD, an enthusiastic reproductive health organization. A long-lasting device to prevent pregnancy and protect against HIV could be a gamechanger for women, especially those in the developing world. The problem with current hormonal and barrier methods on the market is that they often require daily or frequent maintenance and perfect usage in order to be effective. While this IVR won't protect against the full spectrum of STIs (still crossing our fingers for that day), the proposed ring would definitely be preferable to times when condom usage is disregarded, pills are skipped, or a partner insists on just pulling out.

The most exciting part of a safe-sex intravaginal ring possibly coming to market in the future? It certainly won't skimp on women's and men's pleasure.

Image via Northwestern University.