The internet’s exploding with reports that three teenagers have invented something that could save humanity: a condom that detects STIs and changes colors, effectively acting as an on-the-spot test for sexually transmitted infections.
According to numerous blogs and media outlets, the condom would change color for certain types of diseases. It might turn red for HIV, for instance, or blue for gonorrhea. This has obvious benefits for public health, since people could easily determine whether their partners were clean.
Now, here’s a crucial caveat that some news agencies aren’t reporting: This is just a concept, not an actual product. The teen “inventors” don’t have a prototype, but they do have an idea for how the product would work.
Three teenagers from the Isaac Newton Academy in London won a TeenTech Award with the concept, earning about $1,500 for their ingenuity. They call the condom “S.T.Eye,” although it’s not actually in production (and won’t be anytime soon).
“You would have to have the antibodies already attached to the latex of the condom,” one of the teens explained to MTV, “so once you add the fluid onto the latex, it would then trigger the reaction and cause a color change similar to the HIV test.” The project faces two major hurdles. First, nobody has figured out how to attach antibodies to latex. That’s not to say that it’s an impossible task—nobody’s really tried to do that—but it’s certainly not a simple process.
Secondly, even if the technology existed, these condoms would likely be prohibitively expensive, since the development and mass production would require tremendous advances in science and manufacturing. This could be offset by government grants, of course, if the condom is actually effective at improving public health.
Even so, there are practical reasons that this might not be as great an idea as it sounds. Writing for Rewire, Martha Kemper makes a compelling argument for ditching this concept: “…I don’t think the heat of the moment is the best time to find out whether you or your partner has an STI,” she writes. “It’s a very vulnerable time to give or receive that kind of news, especially unexpectedly. At a minimum it could be painfully embarrassing; in the worst-case scenario, I fear it could provoke a potentially violent reaction.”
Kemper’s full piece is worth a read , as it goes into more detail about the story and how there’s no single solution to the issues we face in improving our society’s approach to sexual health.
But we don’t want to be too negative; these teens should be applauded for coming up with such a novel concept. Great technologies come from innovative concepts, and even if this isn’t the magical cure-all for STIs, the fact that teens are thinking about these problems certainly bodes well for the future.