In a country where conversations about sex is sticky business, one gynecologist is promoting sexual health awareness by creating a different kind of condom—one that adheres to the skin and can be used on both penises and vaginas.
“Day in, day out, I am confronted with patients suffering from the side effects of contraceptive methods, or from not using a method, or a failed method, leading to unintended pregnancies,” John Tang Ing Ching, a consultant obstetrician-gynecologist in Sibu, Malaysia, told VICE.
“For instance, it was not uncommon for me to face a schoolgirl breaking down in tears in my clinic when I told her that she was in advanced pregnancy.”
Many of Tang’s patients also grapple with sexually transmitted infections, including genital warts, herpes, and HIV.
Concerned about the cases of unplanned pregnancies and STIs he has come across in his 25 years as a reproductive health clinician, Tang set out to create a condom that could prevent these in ways that current designs do not.
The problem with many condoms today, Tang said, is that they could slip off. Condoms usually only work on erect penises, while those made for vaginas—which work by anchoring a ring inside the vagina—may slip or get misdirected inside the body. Existing condom designs also don’t cover enough area to provide full protection, especially from STIs that spread through skin-to-skin contact like genital herpes and HPV infections, Tang said.
Tang recalled bouncing his idea for an adhesive condom off his peers at a medical conference in Sibu seven years ago, before embarking on what he named the Wondaleaf Project—a cheeky reference to the leaves covering the genitals in depictions of Adam and Eve.
The Wondaleaf Unisex Condom comes with adhesive portions made to keep it attached to users. It also covers a larger part of the body, including the vulva and the base of the penis.
Unlike most condoms, the adhesive condom designed by Tang and his team at medical supplies company Twin Catalyst can be worn even during foreplay, before the penis gets hard.
Despite being home to the world’s biggest producer of condoms, Malaysia, a Muslim-majority country, still considers contraception taboo. Among those adopting more conservative attitudes, condoms are seen as immoral due to their association with non-marital sex.
“Many people have the opinion that [the] condom is kinky and maybe even immoral, but for us gynecologists, it is deadly serious,” said Tang, who aims to remove the stigma around sexual health.
“Perhaps, by the universal empowerment and the comprehensive dual protections, Wondaleaf Unisex Condom can help broaden our conversation on this dilemma.”
Tang said that the idea for the Wondaleaf Unisex Condom was inspired by personal protection equipment (PPE). Effective in preventing many infections, PPE were already commonly worn among healthcare workers even before the COVID-19 pandemic.
“So surely there must be an equivalent of PPE for sexual encounters,” Tang said.
The Wondaleaf Unisex Condom is 30 micrometers thick and made of medical grade polyurethane, a material that is widely used in wound dressings, though Tang said that it’s less sticky and won’t hurt when peeled off. Lube can also be applied on the skin before use to further reduce the condom’s stickiness.
Tang said that the condom he created also addresses some “minor but important issues”: confusing condom sizes, protection from pre- and post-cum, and stealthing, or the act of removing a condom during sex without your sexual partner’s knowledge.
For years, Tang and his team worked to secure funding, create prototypes, and arrange for clinical trials on the unisex condom. Now available online, the Wondaleaf Unisex Condom will be made available in stores in Malaysia in December. The team is still working on releasing the product internationally.
Twin Catalyst also has other products, such as the Wondaleaf Adhesive Pouch Dressing, a wound dressing that can be used for a variety of purposes such as male urinary incontinence and umbilical stumps. There’s also Wondaleaf Cap, a condom that sticks to the shaft of the penis and can stay attached regardless of the degree of erection.
To encourage more people to use the Wondaleaf condoms, Tang and his team are also toying with new flavors, textures, and designs. But they aren’t always on the same page.
“I have thought of durian flavor, but my team strongly advised me against it,” Tang said.
Follow Koh Ewe on Instagram.