“The undeniable and unsurprising truth is that most men prefer sex without a condom, while the risks related to HIV infections or unplanned pregnancies are disproportionately borne by their partners,” notes Papa Salif Sow, a physician with the HIV team at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. And so the foundation recently announced $1 million in grants aimed at coming up with a condom that more men would be willing to wear.
In a pleasantly straightforward article on the New Republic’s Web site, journalist Andy Isaacson recounts how grantees are “tackling the sensation problem.” “The goal is to make a condom that has the same texture as human skin — you won’t even know it’s there,” said grantee Jimmy Mays of the University of Tennessee, who believes he can do it with thermoplastic elastomers, a class of plastic used in toothbrush grips and smartphone covers. Materials scientists at the University of Oregon are working with an ultra-thin polyurethane polymer. The California Family Health Council is using polyethylene, the same plastic used in the gloves worn by food handlers.
And there is Mark McGlothlin of Apex Medical Technologies, who is planning to use collagen from cow tendons. McGlothlin will be getting his raw material, the article notes, “from a Chinese food store in California.”
It would be easy to parody the bliss-out that is the new magazine Live Happy: “Happiness is happening!” proclaims the headline on editor Karol DeWulf Nickell’s introductory essay. “We are all at the forefront of . . . the happiness movement,” hails another. But Live Happy, scheduled to appear bimonthly, also includes some interesting research.
Consider one brief article, which describes a study led by Barbara Fredrickson, director of the Positive Emotions and Psychophysiology Laboratory at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Volunteers in the study filled out a questionnaire designed to measure their levels of two kinds of happiness: hedonia (the quick buzz you get from a tasty meal or new toy) and eudaimonia (contentment related to connecting to a community). Then researchers took blood samples from the volunteers and analyzed their immune cells. They found that people whose happiness in that moment was primarily hedonic had high levels of inflammatory markers linked to increased risk of heart disease, cancer and Alzheimer’s, and they had low levels of disease-fighting antibody and antiviral gene expression. People whose happiness was eudaimonic had the reverse profile; they were potentially healthier.