Good news for everyone who loves sex but hates HIV, HPV, herpes, and all sexually transmitted diseases that don’t start with “H:” Anti-viral condoms are now a thing. Up until now, basic condoms have been the only way to reduce your risk of contracting an STI, but the new “killer” condoms are coated in Vivagel, a virus-neutralizing substance that in lab tests killed 99.9 percent of viruses, including the virus that causes HIV.
StarPharma, the Australian company that developed the gel, says it contains nanoscale dendrimers, or tiny molecules, that attach to a virus and prevent it from entering the human body.
“Because condoms are not 100 percent effective in preventing either pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections, anything that you can do to reduce the number of virus particles by inactivating them with a substance like VivaGel would reduce that overall viral load,” said Jackie Fairely, M.D., StarPharma’s chief executive, in a press release. (Estimates vary, but recent studies show that condoms are only 18 to 92 percent effective depending on how well they are used and the type of disease.)
“This is a very exciting advancement in medical technology,” says Philip Werthman, M.D., a urologist and director of the Center for Male Reproductive Medicine in Los Angeles, who adds that it will be particularly helpful for places like sub-Saharan Africa where AIDS is decimating the population.
The condoms will soon be available in Australia, having just received approval from Australia’s equivalent of the FDA. However, the gel is still in trials for FDA approval for use in the U.S. Werthman cautions that more research needs to be done, noting that the Australian studies only looked at 1,000 women. In addition, in animal trials the gel only prevented transmission of viruses 85 to 99 percent of the time. “That’s great, but is 85 percent good enough for something like HIV?” he says.
But Werthman’s main concern is that people will hear the hype and believe it gives them 100-percent protection and become more reckless sexually. “Other than abstinence, nothing takes away all the risk,” he says, pointing out that even if the gel works perfectly, condoms can break and viruses can live on places the condom doesn’t cover, such as the base of the penis or the outer labia of the vagina. “Technology won’t mitigate risky behavior, and risky sexual behavior is still the strongest determinant of whether someone will get an STI,” he says.