BY: JESSICA BEUKER
A new condom is stirring up colourful conversations about sexually transmitted infections and sexual health. The S.T. EYE is an innovative concept that works by changing colour if an STI is detected. Currently, the idea is nothing more than an idea – and it comes with its fair share of problems. Nonetheless, this concept has sparked many conversations about sexual health and has opened up the door for people to begin talking about STIs in a beneficial way – free from ignorance and shame.
The idea was created by Daanyaal Ali and Chirag Shah, two 14-year-olds and Muaz Nawaz, a 13-year-old. Their creation debuted at the TeenTech Awards in London and began creating buzz almost instantly.
According to the Verge, the idea works as follows: the condom contains a layer of antibodies for a variety of different STIs. If one of those STIs were present in the genitals of the wearer or their partner, the antibodies would recognize the antigens and cause the condom to change colour. Each STI is associated with a different colour. For example, if chlamydia is detected the condom would turn green, if syphilis is detected it turns blue.
Photo: SAEED KHAN/AFP/Getty Images
On the surface this idea seems like a good one – harmful STIs can be detected in your own home, without an invasive procedure at the doctor’s office. Not to mention that condom usage would suddenly become the new cool thing, and hopefully raise the percentage of teenage condom users above the 60 per cent it sits at now. But digging deeper, there are questions and concerns that need to be addressed before the idea could become a reality.
The biggest concern is whether or not this is a good way to implement STI conversations among partners, especially since there is already much stigma surrounding the topic. One misconception is that people with STIs are ‘dirty’ and ‘gross’. Illness of any kind is not about people being ‘dirty’ and many have nothing to do with personal hygiene at all.
According to RH Reality Check, “the idea that sexually transmitted illness, specifically, is about anyone being “dirty” is really about ignorance, misinformation and social stigma, not about science or medical facts. Very unfortunately, and quite maddeningly, we have a long cultural history of stigma around STIs being cultivated primarily out of the desire for social control. In other words, the idea that scaring people about sexually transmitted illness, or shaming people about it, will make it more likely for them to only have the kinds of sex, or sex in the kinds of contexts or relationships, other people want them to have because of their own personal beliefs, which they feel are superior to different beliefs others may have.”
The desire for social control is what led to HIV being referred to as “the gay disease,” a label that is still prevalent and has a negative impact on people who are HIV positive and people who are gay. The myth that certain diseases can only happen to certain people results in more people acquiring these infections, more people spreading them, and less access to safe spaces and treatment.
Receiving the diagnosis of a highly stigmatized infection at an incredibly vulnerable moment is a lot for a teenager – or anyone – to handle. If someone is having sex with a new partner for the first time, and the condom changes color, presumably a conversation is going to take place between both partners. But without all of the correct information and with the shame and ridicule that comes with having an STI, that conversation is not going to be a pleasant, never mind constructive, one.
The S.T. EYE might not be ready to hit the market anytime soon, but the idea in itself is enough of a catalyst to get people talking – and hopefully listening – about sexually transmitted infections. “In a perfect world, where there was no stigma related to STIs… and the response would just be, ‘Oh, hey I should get treated for that,’ you could see how something like this could be a really interesting innovation,” says Dr. Leslie Kantor, vice president of education for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, in an interview with The Verge. “We don’t live in that world.”
Until we do, until we can spark important conversations that ultimately lead to a societal shift in thinking, innovative concepts, like the S.T. EYE will only remain an idea instead of a reality.