Saturday, March 01, 2014

Sex And The Climate – Part II

There is a story told that in the early stages of World War II, during a meeting between Stalin, Churchill, and Roosevelt, the subject of Russian troop morale was raised. Churchill asked Stalin if his two allies could do something to boost his troops’ morale. Stalin admitted that morale could be helped if his army could be supplied with shipments of condoms. The allies inform him that they could indeed provide that commodity, and Churchill asked, how many? Stalin said he had been informed by his generals that they would require at least one million shipped as quickly as possible. The two leaders agreed that would be doable, and Churchill then inquired as to the size. Stalin boastingly declares 12” condoms would be required. At the conclusion of the meeting, knowing that Stalin was exaggerating, Churchill asked Roosevelt how they should handle this request. Roosevelt thought for a minute and said, “Ship them the 12 inchers, but stamp them as size Medium.”

Although this story is probably apocryphal, I can attest to the fact that just after World War II ended, for Russian soldiers, condoms were considered an even more valuable commodity for trading purposes than cigarettes. Unlike the U.S. Army that freely dispensed condoms to its troops, a critical shortage prevented the Russians from doing so. (Don’t ask how I know this.)

Condom History

The condom is possibly the oldest form of male birth control since recorded history began. However, the first record actually dates back to cave paintings in Europe that are 12,000-15,000 years old, and seem to represent the use of condoms. The literature on the subject does provide a number of veiled references to condoms made from different materials by older civilizations. However, archaeologists and historians debate whether condoms were actually used in ancient civilizations. It depends on what is meant by ancient.

As far back as 950 BC, Egyptian paintings show that condoms were used. European paintings indicate the same, although these are not as old as the paintings in Egypt. Nevertheless, historians consider that the condom seen in European paintings can be considered to be the forerunner of the modern condom. The first really mass popular usage was for disease control. This was a consequence of an outbreak of syphilis that swept across Europe, and then Asia in the early 16 th Century, yet by the middle of that century, its use had also spread to birth control.

The first recorded condom was made of leather, but there is no information about the use of lubricants (Ouch!!). Later, condoms were made with linen, or from intestines and bladders from goats and sheep. However, in 1844, Charles Goodyear patented the rubber vulcanization process, and 11 years later the first rubber condoms were produced. These had the advantages of being mass-produced and could be reused. However, the lambskin types were initially cheaper, provided better sensitivity, and thus remained the most popular.

In 1920, a stronger and thinner condom was enabled due to the invention of latex. Young’s Rubber Co. introduced the Trojan brand at that time, and automated production allowed for mass distribution and lower prices. In 1994, condoms made from polyurethane were produced. They are considered by most to be superior to latex in several ways, but they are significantly more expensive. It is estimated that in 2011, 21 billion condoms were produced. It is expected that by 2016 that number would grow to 30 billion.

The birth control pill became the world's most popular method of birth control in the years after its 1960 debut, but condoms remained a strong second. In the latter half of the 20 th Century legal barriers to condom use were removed, and condoms were being sold in a wider variety of retail outlets, including in supermarkets and in discount department stores such as Wal-Mart. With the discovery of AIDS in the 1980’s, condoms became even more popular as a device to ward off disease.

More recently, especially in the developed countries, women have taken a more aggressive role in using birth control methods. A large part of this movement is the result of the availability of many more options than are available to their male partners. Women have a diverse assortment of choices such as patches, sponges, shots, implants, vaginal rings, cervical caps, female condoms, IUD’s, and of course a variety of birth control pills.

Unfortunately this array of choices is not readily available in the poorer and less educated female populations. This group lives in less developed countries where, unlike the developed nations, population growth is exploding, and the need is the greatest. (Therein lies the major overpopulation problem.)

However, the forsaken male is limited in his contraceptive choices to this list from Planned Parenthood: abstinence, vasectomy, withdrawal, outercourse, and condoms. The first four (obviously unwelcome) choices clearly explain the popularity of condoms––except for the fact that most men find that condoms in their current form are not the ideal solution. (Despite the huge number of condoms produced, worldwide, only five percent of males use them.) Complaints range from “It spoils the mood,” “They’re uncomfortable and difficult to put on,” “They dull the feeling.” A senior member of the Gates Foundation was quoted as saying “The common analogy is that wearing a condom is like taking a shower with a raincoat on.”

The Gates Foundation

To reverse that perception, Bill Gates decided that something had to be done to encourage more critical thinking about the subject of condoms. (In fact, that’s the basic reason for this article.) If the ideal condom could be devised, one that men would actually enjoy, wouldn’t that be a significant contribution to lessen unwanted pregnancies, reduce the terror of sexually spread diseases such as AID’s, and help control the specter of overpopulation?

In March of 2013, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation offered a $100,000 grant through his foundation for each of a limited number of condom designs that “significantly preserves or enhances pleasure” to encourage more males to adopt the use of condoms for safer sex.

The grant information states: “The primary drawback from the male perspective is that condoms decrease pleasure as compared to no condom, creating a trade-off that many men find unacceptable, particularly given that the decisions about use must be made just prior to intercourse. Is it possible to develop a product without this stigma, or better, one that is felt to enhance pleasure?” Essentially, the objective was to create the “Next Generation” condom.

After receiving 812 submissions, in November of last year the Gates Foundation announced that 11 winners had been selected. Each one received $100,000 to finalize the product. In 12 to 18 months a final winner will be selected, and awarded one million dollars. The range of ideas appears not only creative, but some are quite ingenious. Here is a short description of each.

Elastic condom: Using a new composite of elastic materials, a team from the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom proposes a condom that will feel more like skin-to-skin contact.

Self-tightening condom: Layering multiple polymers allows the condom to gently tighten during intercourse.

Mucous condom: A team from Northwestern University will create a new polymeric material that mimics the properties of mucosal tissue, providing a very natural feeling.

Break-resistant condom: A nanoparticle coating helps prevent condom breakage.

Shape memory condom: Polyurethane linear and elastomeric materials will initiate body heat that will quickly fix the shape of the condom to the individual wearer, and increase sensitivity.

Wrapping condom: Hypoallergenic polyethylene condoms will wrap and cling around the wearer instead of squeezing him.

Super elastomer condom: Super elastomer technology allows condoms to be made ultra-thin, ultra-soft, strong and tear resistant. It also has a low-cost production method, which will encourage use in developing countries.

Cow tendon condom: Collagen fibers from cows' Achilles tendons, and possibly fish skin, will give the wearer more of a skin-to-skin feel, and will enhance strength and sensitivity.

The Rapidom: A condom with applicators attached make putting it on possible with a single motion. It makes application easier and, most importantly; helps get the condom on the right way.

Condom Applicator Pack: An applicator separate from the condom, but sold in the same package. It's meant to keep the condom away from the wearer's hands, which can spread disease, and ensure the condom is put on in the right direction.

Graphene condom: Using graphene-based polymer composites to produce the thinnest and strongest condom possibly made.

Which one would you select? My pick would be the last one. For one thing, in 2010, the Nobel Prize in physics was awarded to two University of Manchester scientists Andre Geim and Kostya Novoselov who isolated graphene from a block of graphite, the material commonly referred to as the lead used in pencils. (Coincidentally, there is a crude euphemism that could be used here, but caution prevents me from doing so.)

Graphene is the world's thinnest material. In its purest form it is only one molecule thick, and as a result is considered to be two dimensional. It is also the second strongest, and the most conductive material of heat and electricity in the world. It promises a vast range of diverse applications from smartphones and ultrafast broadband to computer chips. Marrying the elasticity of polymers with the strength, thinness, and elasticity of grapheme should create the super condom.

Sometime in the year 2015, the Gates Foundation will declare the winner of the one million dollar award. Hopefully, it will succeed in its goal of lowering unwanted pregnancies, and disease, as well as curtail the explosive growth of the world’s population.

Now that you have learned more about condoms than you probably ever wanted to know, I thought back to when young, testosterone laden males usually carried a condom with them at a time that hope for sexual conquest was trumped by reality––it rarely happened. So here’s a question for my male readers: as the Capital One Bank TV ads ask, “What’s in your wallet?”


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