July 25, 2007
And While You’re Waiting For That Vaccine…

… here’s, um, another thing to wait for. A liquid condom! ( Sort of.)

More specifically: VivaGel, a microbicidal gel that’s shown promise against both herpes and HIV (two-in-one! Hot!).

Developed by Starpharma, an Australian pharmaceuticals company, VivaGel recently went into clinical trials in the United States — one of the first (and most important) steps towards approval (and market release). How’s it work? The active ingredient in VivaGel (dendrimers) binds to HIV and HSV-2 (“genital” herpes) particles (but not HSV-1, or “oral” herpes), neutralizing them so that they can’t cause an infection.

The possibility of an effective vaginal microbicide is pretty exciting. It could allow women whose partners refuse to use condoms to protect themselves (we assume the same goes for men engaging in receptive anal sex), which is a pretty big deal — especially in places like India and Africa, where rates of HIV infection are high (and respect for women is often low).

But (you knew there was a but, right?): you’ll have to forgive us for being a little skeptical on this one. Boinkology still remembers the sad case of nonoxynol-9 — the supposed solution to HIV that turned out to cause vaginal lesions (and thus make women more, not less, likely to contract HIV). Call us paranoid, but until we’re absolutely sure that a microbicide isn’t going to tear up our insides — well, we’ll be holding off the ticker tape parade.

There’s also the fact that — while it’s great that VivaGel claims to protect against both HIV and genital herpes — VivaGel only protects against HIV and genital herpes… and not HPV, chlamydia, syphilis, gonorrhea, or, uh, pregnancy (or even oral herpes, which, by the by, people can get on their genitals.). Starpharma claims that VivaGel has shown promise in protecting against other STIs, and maybe even pregnancy: we’ll believe it when we see it (or at least see some FDA approval).

Yes, VivaGel is better than no condom — and when that’s the only option for someone, it’s great for that option to be there, period. But it’s definitely not equivalent to a condom (not yet, at least): and, if it does come on the market, we hope people will be able to keep that in mind.

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Monica Shores