Even with the availability of condoms, many young people unknowingly contract and spread sexually transmitted infections, creating what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warns may be a public health emergency in the making for millennials.
But some young people are taking matters into their own hands. A group of high school students in the United Kingdom have invented a condom that changes color when it comes into contact with the bacteria associated with the presence of STIs.
The trio — 14-year-old Daanyaal Ali, 13-year-old Muaz Nawaz, and 14-year-old Chirag Shah of Isaac Newton Academy in Iflord, Essex — said their invention, appropriately named the “S.T.EYE,” allows sexually active people quickly and privately address issues of sexual health in the privacy of their home without the awkwardness of a visit to the clinic. Colors include yellow for herpes, blue for syphilis, and purple for HPV.
“We created the S.T.EYE as a new way for STI detection to help the future of the next generation,” Daanyaal told The Independent. “We wanted to make something that make detecting harmful STIs safer than ever before, so that people can take immediate action in the privacy of their own homes without the invasive procedures at the doctors. We’ve made sure we’re able to give peace of mind to users and make sure people can be even more responsible than ever before.”
Despite a drop in the rates of teen pregnancy, birth, and abortions, young people in the United States — particularly those of ethnic background — stand a greater likelihood of unintentionally contracting STIs than their counterparts in other industrialized countries. This reality has prompted discussion about how to best educate students about the perils of unprotected sex. Every second counts in disseminating accurate information. More than 20 percent of teen females and 14 percent of teen men report not using a condom during their first intercourse. One-third of high school aged children say they’re sexually active, a quarter of whom reportedly used alcohol and drugs before coitus.
The CDC, the National Institutes of Health, and other domestic public health organizations agree that more widespread condom use would reduce he transmission of STIs like HIV, chlamydia, gonorrhea, herpes, and HPV. Contrary to popular belief, condoms don’t impede arousal, pleasure, and orgasm, says Leslie M. Kantor, the national director of education initiatives for Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
In modifying the condom so that it detects STIs on the spot, the S.T.EYE — currently in the development stages — has taken the fight to prevent the spread of disease further, with the potential to connect the dots for young people about why it’s in their best interest to use a barrier method during intercourse. This in part may represent a shift in thinking centered on speaking to young people honestly about sex and trusting them to make their own decisions.
For their work, the trio received accolades, a grant totaling the equivalent of more than $1500, and a trip to Buckingham Palace during the TeenTech Awards, an event that connects students with opportunities in the contemporary STEM workplace. Several news outlets across the world have heralded the invention as an innovative necessity.
However, this isn’t the first effort to encourage condom use. Previous teen-focused campaigns have focused on educating youth and encouraging condom use, particularly in communities where residents have more lax attitudes about sex. For instance, Project Elevate, a program coordinated by the AIDS Foundation of Chicago, equips more than a dozen women of color between the ages of 13 and 24 with the support they need to enlighten their peers about the benefits of condom use. Earlier this year, two dozen street graffiti artists collaborated with ONE Condoms as part of the Lust for Life Campaign, an effort to endorse safe sex through original street artwork. Each artist used a full-sized STOP sign to convey themes of self-love, social, responsibility, and prudence.