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The first FDA-cleared underwear may shake up the sex tech market

Illustration of a shield with an image of underwear etched into it.

Illustration: Gabriella Turrisi/Axios

Move aside, dental dams, and meet Lorals, a Backstage Capital-backed startup that just scored federal clearance for underwear that protects against sexually transmitted infections during oral sex.

Why it matters: Tech startups have so far digitized access to birth control, helped finance IVF and let people test their sperm from home, but few have introduced entirely new options for oral protection from STIs.

Context: Lorals' super-stretchy panties are the first to get federal authorization, creating an opening for future sex tech entrepreneurs interested in designing safe sex tools.

  • Previously, people were limited to thin sheets of latex that had to be held in place with one's hands.

How they work: The FDA green-lit Lorals' single-use underwear in March after determining they were "substantially equivalent" to a type of dental dam the agency had previously approved.

  • The FDA also reviewed documentation Lorals submitted on non-clinical tests it performed of the underwear's elasticity, tear resistance, packaging integrity and freedom from holes and other visual defects.
  • The company has not yet performed human trials of its product.

The big question: Whether Los Angeles-based Lorals will drive more entrepreneurs to work on tools for sexual health and safety, an area Silicon Valley has largely overlooked.

  • "I absolutely encourage entrepreneurs to innovate in safe sex and STI prevention products," says Jane van Dis, an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Rochester and the CMO of maternity care startup Biorithm.
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