Although sensory-guided product design is most traditionally used by food and beverage companies, the approach has widespread application for many other products, including pharmaceuticals and medical devices. Previously, our team used sensory methods to explore preclinical optimization of soft-gel vaginal microbicides. Past clinical trials suggest vaginal microbicides may be an effective means for women to protect themselves from HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, but these microbicides will not work if they are not used due to poor acceptability. Our prior work suggests properties like firmness, size, and shape all influence women’s willingness to try soft-gel vaginal suppositories. As product insertion is part of the overall experience of using vaginal microbicides, understanding the features of vaginal applicators that appeal to women, and incorporating these insights into vaginal drug delivery systems, may also improve user adherence. Despite widespread use of vaginal applicators, there is minimal public data on women’s perceptions of and preferences for physical applicator features. Other work suggests women want vaginal applicators that are single use, pre-filled, made of plastic, and easy to use, store, and discard. Applicator attributes that may be important to women, such as length, color, or visual appeal, have not been investigated previously. The objective of this research was to understand what physical applicator attributes are appealing to women. Here, 18 commercially available applicators were evaluated by a convenience sample of women (n = 102) for overall liking and perceptions of various attributes (perceived length and width, ease-of-grip, expected ease-of-use, expected comfort inside the body, visual appeal, color liking, and environmental friendliness). Preference mapping using both liking data and attribute data showed attributes such as color, visual appeal, ease of grip, expected ease of use, and expected comfort inside the body drove higher liking ratings for applicators, while perceived length negatively affected liking. In general, plastic tampon applicators contained more positive features and were better liked relative to a cardboard tampon applicator or applicators for insertion of medicated gels or suppositories. Incorporating more desirable features into applicators meant for insertion of vaginal microbicides or other vaginal medications may improve the user experience, and possibly user adherence.
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