Participants in Kate Morrow's [IRMA Steering Committee Member] recent study may not have felt like they were fighting the global HIV epidemic.
In fact, what they were literally feeling were gels of various consistencies inside their vaginas.
The women in Morrow's Project LINK answered questions after handling the gels, inserting them vaginally, walking around and simulating intercourse with a fake phallus. Did the gel leak out? Did it inhibit the experience . . . or did they actually enjoy it?
Morrow has developed a set of scales to show the range of sensations and experiences women reported. Her goal now is to connect those sensations to data about which gels women would use to prevent HIV. Do they prefer gels that are smooth, thin or thick like hair gel? The answers to those questions could help lead to a microbicide that women will tolerate--and perhaps even enjoy.
For decades, women's health advocates have known that women need a way to protect themselves from HIV that is not dependent on a male partner. Vaginal microbicide gels are among an array of options--including pills, rectal microbicides and vaginal rings--that may one day help. Advocates hope microbicides could even be combined with birth control and help prevent other sexually-transmitted illnesses.