Breakthroughs in Safe-Sex Sheaths - Breakthrough Week

By Tanya Silverman

Photo courtesy of Peter Rivera.


Maybe that’s on your mind. But, like a thousand other people and public service announcements have told you before, such activities must be practiced safely to prevent diseases and unwanted pregnancies.

Sheaths of sorts often act as guard. However, because they’re still not the perfect solution–regarding feel, fit, mood, or taste–pioneers are always trying out new ways to devise the perfect safe-sex device.

Certain sheaths became successful, others flopped, but most are still in some stage of development until we humans find the best device to ensure the perfect synthesis of pleasure and protection.

Male Condoms: Materials, Sprays, and Caps

Centuries ago, Romans used condoms made from goat bladders, while the Japanese worked with leather and tortoiseshell materials to protect the phallus. Silk papers and lambs’ guts were also utilized.

Fast forward to 1839, Charles Goodyear discovered a way to process rubber to so that it would stretch without quickly tearing. So, it was suitable as contraception. A breakthrough material for sexual usage indeed, the primitive rubbers were still a long way off from the condoms we see today since they were apparently about as thick as an inner tube.

Rubber cement was common up until the popularization of latex in the 1920s. The year 1957 saw the first lubricated condom. Flavored and colored condoms came out in the ‘90s, and in our current consumer era, we can buy prophylactics ribbed, studded, dinosaur shaped, or housed in a wrapper featuring a photo of President Obama.

However, no matter how many millions of unwanted incidents these instruments have prevented to date, people always come up with all sorts of new designs to evolve the male condom.

Take Jan Vinzenz Krause, a German sexual-health educator who gave people professional advice on how to find the best condom fit for their bodies. One day, Krause found inspiration to his area of expertise in the mechanics of a drive-through car wash. Rather than searching for the perfect rubber, why not invent a can that would spray latex from all directions? The idea was that the approach would mold better onto each man’s unique penile shape, not slip, and cover faster than that buzz-killing, roll-on method.

Unfortunately for car wash enthusiasts and snug condom searchers, the spray-on device only made it to the testing stage (where the participants thought the latex took too long to dry) and the innovative idea never went to market.

It doesn’t look like the bust got Krause’s spirits down too much. At least not according to how he carries himself in recent portraits where he’s smiling gleefully while holding an unused (unsprayed) condom in front of his eye.

Well, if you can’t spray it, why not… cap it? In the works is a new invention, the Galactic Cap, which promises easier application, safer sex, and better feeling because it only covers the head of the penis. The inventors market it with the logic that exposing the male’s coronal ridge and shaft for intercourse feels better and entails a more powerful orgasm.

Still in development, the Galactic Cap has an Indiegogo campaign through which they’re looking to get things going.


The female condom, also known as the Femidom, launched in 1992, as a seven-inch tube made of pre-lubricated polyurethane with a flexible plastic ring inside. Originally invented as a device for incontinence, the Femidom did not gain much popularity in countries like Britain, and was often subjected to harsh comical comparisons to balloons, windsocks, or Tesco (department store) shopping bags.

Elsewhere, though, the female condom experienced a more positive reception–particularly when it was distributed to developing countries that had problems with AIDS. When introduced to sex workers in Sri Lanka, the women actually marketed it as a sex toy and allowed clients to apply it. In fact, some users view it as such; certain women in India found the actual insertion to be pleasurable, plus when the man’s penis rubs against the plastic ring inside, the touch enhances his orgasm. “Kaytec-yenza” is a slang term said in Zimbabwe that describes the ring’s pleasurable sensation.

Newer models of the female condom are on the market in several countries, which hold interior sponges or foam (rather than rings), or are scented or colored.

An American company, Origami, is developing a new female condom which they claim will adhere to both partners’ anatomy, and even replicate the woman’s natural vaginal fluids. It’s more oval shaped, and because it’s created from silicone, can be washed with dishwater and reused.

Until it’s out, we’ll just have to wait and see if their hype for the “Radical New Condoms for the 21st Century” holds true.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Dental Dams

A latex sheath you may have experienced against your mouth during your last root canal can also be used for safe oral sex. To keep things simple, the square rubber surface even goes by the same name: the dental dam.

Cheap and easy, dental dams today are available in assorted flavors to suit your taste of cunnilingus (or analingus): grape, banana, mint, strawberry, or vanilla.

Apparently you can even go dental-dam DIY by snipping a regular condom with scissors. Saran wrap is not advised, however.

So hopefully you’ve learned a bit by now about some breakthroughs in STD prevention and birth control, sans hormones or surgery. For all the options consumers now have, there are certainly more to come.