Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Air-Infused Female Condoms

June 13, 2014

Early in my career as a Reproductive Endocrinologist at Harvard Medical School I performed one of the first successful in vitro fertilization (IVF) procedures in the United States. Working with infertile couples, I repeatedly saw the terrible impact sexually transmitted diseases (STD) played on female fertility.

In the last 10 years of a 35-year Ob/GYN career, my focus has shifted to providing care for women beyond their reproductive years as they enter perimenopause, menopause and beyond. During this time, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported a 43% increase in STDs among those 55 and older. In some areas of this country, the rise was even greater, increasing up to 87%. The growth of STDs and HIV/AIDS is even more troubling among minority populations in the United States, and globally it is still on the rise with 95% of new infections occurring in individuals that reside in low- and middle-income countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. With increasing trends of divorced and/or widowed women in the United States, I found myself routinely having safe-sex discussions with women over 50 that I once had with women entering their reproductive years.   

As my practice changed, I began to look for solutions for my patients with the potential for even wider use. Male condoms are effective but often resisted by partners. With so few product options, my attention was drawn to Condax LLC. They are known for their novel and innovative approaches including their new condom applicator products. I leaned that their engineers were considering melding their air-infusion technology into female condoms, and a long - term relationship was initiated.

I worked with engineers at Condax LLC as a consultant to a Research Grant from the National Institute of Aging that focused on using air-pressure to non-pharmacologically alleviate the effect of erectile dysfunction. Following that work the Femex Female Air-Infused condom was patented.  Because air, when compressed and constricted in narrow tubules, is highly supportive, we thought that it could be configured to assist in allowing women to use an internal product whose expanded tubules would gently stimulate both partners, and actually add internal support for the male partner. With support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation funding, these US Patented products are in the process of being prototyped. Attention is being focused on using either controlled, compressed air-pellets, or a miniature thumb-pump, smaller than those currently used on some sneakers to introduce the air-infused support.

The medical-grade polymer substrates were chosen for their strength and silent operation as well as their ability to become comfortably super-slippery when lubricated. Although the Femex condom devices will likely cost slightly more than conventional male condoms, the heat-sealing technology used in their construction shows great promise in achieving higher reliability and safety. Currently, the projected retail cost of the disposable ‘Female’ product is under $2.00. I am hopeful the outcome will offer women a new effective option that they will both control and use as a solution for protection from STDs and HIV.

To learn more about the Gates Foundation's "Next Generation" condom challenge, click here.

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