It isn’t every day you can make crude sex jokes about philanthropy, but today is one of them: Bill Gates is donating $100,000 to whoever can create a condom that people actually enjoy using.
Or as he calls it, “The Next Generation Condom.”
The Foundation said in its announcement:
“We are looking for a Next Generation Condom that significantly preserves or enhances pleasure, in order to improve uptake and regular use.”
As an adult male who has partaken in certain, shall we say, “extracurricular activities” that have at times necessitated the use of contraceptives, let me be the first to say, good luck with that!
In the interest of not offending the sensibilities of certain people, I’ll just say that most people prefer not having to use them and leave it there. And not just men, either: Anecdotally speaking, it would seem women prefer the same.
According to the feminist NPR blog XX, the Gates Foundation’s decision has been met in many corners with derision, guffaws, and disapproval. Some people have characterized the move as “pervy” or stupid.
But as XX points out:
“Underlining all of this razzing of Gates’ initiative are some pretty backward messages: Safe sex shouldn’t feel good; avoiding consequences like pregnancy and STIs ought to require personal sacrifice; men should be happy to just be having sex, regardless of the circumstances. These beliefs reinforce the idea that sex is inherently either dangerous or unpleasant. We now have the opportunity to leverage technology to cut through some of that moralizing around safe sex.”
The bottom line — all joking aside — is that Gates’ offer represents a major opportunity. If someone invents a safe, effective, non-irritative condom that people actually enjoy using, it would go a long way toward stopping the spread of STDs and helping to prevent unplanned pregnancies.
As the Gates’ foundations call-to-action notes:
“Condoms have been in use for about 400 years yet they have undergone very little technological improvement in the past 50 years.”
This step is long overdue. The best part is, when the research is done, there’ll be unofficial public trials all over the world. We will, all of us, be the ones who decide if it’s any good.
If it works, the world will be pleased. If it doesn’t, we’ll call it the Windows condom.