When will women finally receive their own reliable HIV preventive? Vaginal microbicides have been an “exciting and new” idea since the late ’80s—more than 11 such foams and gels are currently being studied in human trials. But there’s no guarantee that any microbicides will reach gals before 2010.

The problem, said Anna Forbes of the Global Campaign for Microbicides, is circular. “Pharmaceutical companies don’t want to invest until a product is in later stages of testing and has shown some real market potential.” And the product, of course, can’t show that potential without strong initial funding.

Meanwhile, beware of bogus microbicides like Pure Irish Moss, Erogel (nonoxynol-15, which may increase HIV risk) and Freedom Lube—being marketed without that pesky testing process. Just remember: No microbicide being sold today has been proven effective against HIV. Here’s a taste of what’s in the works.

Microbicides & Devices

Contender: Carraguard. Made from carrageenan, a seaweed extract
Game Plan: To block HIV—plus HPV and gonorrhea—when applied vaginally (as a nontoxic gel) before sex
Record: Cleared safety tests—now in Phase III for effectiveness
Reputation: The Population Council’s top microbicide candidate

Contender: Topical Tenofovir. A nuke (NRTI) in gel form
Game Plan: To stop HIV from replicating at infection site. Inserted before sex
Record: Still in Phase I safety trials
Reputation: Repeated anti-retroviral smearing could be expensive

Contender: Lactobacillus Suppository. Concentrated naturally occurring vagi bacteria
Game Plan: To improve vaginal health and provide resistance to STDs, including HIV
Record: In Phase II clinical safety trials
Reputation: Women may find its natural origins especially appealing

Contender: Vaginal Ring. A hollow circle, similar to a diaphragm’s latex–coated ring
Game Plan: To release regular doses of HIV-killing compounds. Worn near the cervix
Record: Phase I testing has yet to begin
Reputation: Could be worn continuosuly for as long as a year