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The Smart Condom as STI Protection

By Jeffrey Sterling, MD October 17, 2019

Introduction

This Straight, No Chaser looks at an innovative use of condoms protecting you from STIs: the smart condom.

smart condom

In the News

In the news is the concept of the smart condom, a prophylactic meant to identify the presence of STDs in real-time (meaning during sex). Let’s think this through. First, knowing this was developed by a group of teenage students is fascinating and raises a lot of questions, a few of which I’ll ask and answer. I would love to have been in the room during the first production meeting just to enjoy the dynamic between the kids and the adults…
So! We’ll make this “smart condom.” It’s going to detect various STDs!

Let’s Talk!

  • Cynical, Straight, No Chaser-type doctor: Well, what would really be smart is getting checked for STDs before the decision is made to have sex.

Nope. You’ve got to meet people where they are. No one has time for that!

  • So what you’re saying is folks will engage in foreplay during which the condom will be used as a dipstick to determine the presence of a STD.

Coloured condoms
No, Doc. Nobody’s stopping during foreplay! During sex, the condoms will glow various colors if a STD is detected. Let’s say green for chlamydia, yellow for herpes, purple for HPV (human papilloma virus, the cause of genital warts) and blue for syphilis.

  • Where do I start… so the condoms will glow during intercourse. Are we expecting the participants to take an immediate break during the initiation of sex to check on this?
  • Or how about this: if you have a green glow, how do you know chlamydia is present instead of a combination of syphilis and herpes (because a mixture of blue and yellow pigments produces green)? Keep in mind, the individual with one STD is much more likely to have multiple STDs.
  • Plus, I’m not sure of the utility for HPV. About 75% of us have it anyway and there’s no treatment. This is another argument for prevention even more than detection.

Sigh. Why are you being difficult? It’s better for people to know whenever they can, so the STD can be identified and people can be prompted to go in for evaluation!

  • You could be right, and it’s good to protect the innocent, but your premise flies in the face to the reality of many individuals prone to contract STDs.
    • They tend not to use condoms at all.
    • Their behavior isn’t curbed by the presence of an STD.
    • Knowledge of an STD isn’t necessary a prompt for treatment for an STD.
    • Anyone conscientious enough to use a smart condom is probably smart enough to have gotten him or herself and any partner tested prior to engaging in sex.

Well do you have any better ideas?

  • Actually, I support the idea as an option. Anything used to help identify STDs is a good public health initiative, and even periodic use by allegedly monogamous couples would be a good deal. But could we enhance it? How about a electric zapper connected to the condom prompted by the chemical reaction? If the condom was really smart, it would make you stop having sex!

Doc, don’t you have a patient or something to do? Meeting’s over!

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