Microbicides are topical compounds that can be used to protect against STDs during rectal or vaginal intercourse. Used in addition to latex condoms, or instead of condoms where condoms aren’t acceptable, they are designed to reduce the risk of transmitting infection.
Microbicides could be an invaluable tool for people unable to negotiate condom use with their partners because of fear of violence or other reprisal. Although no safe and effective microbicides are yet available, there are more than 30 microbicides currently in development. Some work by forming physical barriers against infection. Others work by making the vaginal, or rectal, environment less susceptible to infection. For example, BufferGel(TM), a microbicide currently in development, is designed to help keep the vagina at its normal acidic pH even in the presence of semen. The normal acidic pH of the vagina is toxic to most sexually transmitted diseases, but semen neutralizes the vagina during intercourse.
For some scientists, the holy grail of microbicide development is discovering a microbicide that protects against STD infection while still allowing pregnancy. This type of microbicide could be a miracle for women who wish to protect themselves from the possibility of an STD, but want, or need, to keep having children. Such microbicides would also be particularly useful in areas where STDs are endemic but a woman’s fertility is seen as a major part of her value to society.
Here are some links where you can find out more information about microbicide development: