It takes just a peek at the online store Condomania to appreciate the variety of condoms out there.
Flavors like island punch, banana split and bubble gum. Vibrating condom rings with batteries that last up to 20 minutes. Glow-in-the-dark condoms promising “30 minutes of glowing fun.”
And under the category “Celebrity Condoms,” there is the “Obama Condoms Stimulus Package,” each condom embossed with an image of the president giving two thumbs up.
But even if that presidential seal of approval were real, it would not overcome a chronic and serious public health obstacle: Most men do not like condoms.
Now an influential player in global health, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is getting into the game. The foundation just finished collecting applications for what it calls a Grand Challenge: to develop “a next-generation condom that significantly preserves or enhances pleasure.”
The goal is to address two significant problems: unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases like AIDS. Condoms cheaply and effectively prevent both, but around the world only 5 percent of men wear them and there are 2.5 million new H.I.V. infections a year. To stem that tide, health experts say, the number of men regularly using condoms needs to double.
“Decreased sexual pleasure is typically the predominant reason for not using them,” said Stephen Ward, a program officer for the Gates Foundation. “Can we actually make them more desirable? That’s what we’re shooting for.”
More than 500 applications poured into the Gates contest, which will award winners $100,000 this fall, and up to $1 million subsequently. And in a first for a Gates challenge, Mr. Ward said, people sent samples.
“Boxes of condoms, condom accessories, condom cases that look like something else so women can be very discreet while carrying them,” he said. “We received a completely stocked carrying case with condoms, lubricant and breath mints.”