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A measure of pleasure to improve safe sex’s hard sell

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A UOW-led project to develop a revolutionary new condom is using brain scans to measure reactions to touch.

Project GELdom is an initiative supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to design a new condom made of tough hydrogel materials, in order to improve feeling and increase regular use.

Backed by experts at UOW and Swinburne University, the project aims to develop a condom that has a human tissue-like sensation, redefining what safe sex should feel like. This new condom has the potential to increase condom usage, leading to better family planning and disease prevention.

To measure the preference to this new material, researchers at Swinburne University of Technology are using neurological equipment to test people’s reaction to touching the hydrogel.

The test involves participants touching the different materials with their finger and measuring their responses to to see if the researchers can trick the brain into thinking the hydrogel feels like human skin.

Researchers are using neurological equipment to test people’s reaction to touching the hydrogel material.

After a successful pilot study in which participants responded positively to the hydrogel, the study has been opened up to a larger sample.

Swinburne’s Dr Joseph Ciorciari, Director of the Brain and Psychological Sciences Centre, who is leading the testing phase of the project, said that the electroencephalography (EEG) was allowing neuroscience to measure how pleasurable the hydrogel was, compared to latex.

“The EEG allows us to measure the brain’s subconscious responses to the material, before the participant has even had the chance to decide whether or not they are going to respond positively to it,” Dr Ciorciari said.

“This removes any bias or pre-existing influences from the equation. Measuring changes in brain activity is an effective way of determining whether or not the hydrogel is more preferable than existing condoms.”

Dr Ciorciari told The Age the material was “really unusual to touch. It feels like real human tissue, like when you’re touching someone but they’re covered in a lubricant”.

He said the hydrogel condom was the only material that hit a “strong hot spot” at the front of the brain.

“We also got a perceptual novelty response, as in ‘oh that’s different, I want to feel more of that’,” he said.

The trial is being conducted within Swinburne’s Centre for Design Innovation.

(Source: University of Wollongong)

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Posted On: 25 January, 2016
Modified On: 17 January, 2016

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