Condoms – What Are They & How Effective They Are?

A condom is a contraceptive of barrier type, but it also protects you from a large number of pathogens and sexually transmitted diseases. It represents a solid cover, impenetrable for sperm that fits the erected penis. Commonly the condoms are made of latex, but the condom market offers artificial materials, like PU and PUI.

When were Condoms Invented?

The history of condoms totals at least 400 years — it was invented at the beginning of the XVI century by doctor Charles Kondom for Henry VIII and was made of a mucous membrane of sheep’s intestines. The oldest condom reached up to now is found in Lund, Sweden. It is supposedly dated from 1640.

Materials the Condoms are Made of

Natural Latex

Latex has excellent mechanical properties: its tensile strength exceeds 30 MPa, and latex condoms may be enlarged by 8 times before breaking. In 1990 the International standard organization (ISO) established standards for condom production. After this, the European Union and its Committee of standardization established the standard. Every latex condom is tested for integrity by the means of an electric current. Latex condoms are incompatible with oil-based lubricants (e.g. vaseline): they can break or subside due to the loss of elasticity caused by oil. The European manufacturers have the usual thickness of a condom wall made of latex — 0,06 mm (60 microns). Thinner ones, up to 0.04 mm, the producers refer to as “Sensitive”, “Light”, etc., thicker condoms (therefore more durable), are up to 0.1 mm.


Synthetic Materials

The most common material after the latex is polyurethane. Condoms are made of other synthetic materials such as resin AT-10 (AT-10 resin), and more recently polyisoprene.

Best polyurethane condoms are three times thinner than usual latex ones (wall thickness of polyurethane condom Sagami original — 20 microns). The high-density laying of polyurethane molecules excludes the existence of the micropores presented in latex condoms. The thickness of most polyurethane condoms is from 40 to 70 microns. Female condoms are often made of polyurethane as well.

In many respects polyurethane is better than latex: it conducts heat better, and it is less sensitive to temperature and ultraviolet radiation. For this reason, the requirements for polyurethane condom storing are less stringent, and their shelf life is longer. Polyurethane is compatible with lubricants based on oil, less allergenic than latex, and odorless. Polyurethane condoms are approved by FDA for sale in the United States as an effective method of contraception and prevention of AIDS.

Laboratory tests have shown that PU condoms are no less effective than those latex ones. On the other hand, polyurethane is less elastic than latex, easier to slip off or break, and is more expensive. Polyisoprene is a synthetic version of latex. It is much more expensive, but it has all the advantages of latex and there is no protein (contained in natural latex) that can cause allergies.

Intestine of Lamb

“Lambskin” (actually its intestine) is one of the oldest materials for the production of condoms. Condoms from this material conduct heat better and have less impact on sensations than synthetic, and they are less allergenic than latex. However, the risk of getting one of the STDs is higher than with latex condoms because the material has pores that are permeable to pathogens STD, although it is impervious to sperm. These condoms are considerably much more expensive than the others.

Spermicidal Condoms

Some latex condoms are lubricated with a small amount of nonoxynol-9, a substance that destroys sperm (spermicide). According to Consumer Reports magazine, spermicidal condoms do not have any advantage in preventing pregnancy, their shelf life is shorter and they can cause urinary tract infections in women. On the contrary, the use of separately stored spermicide improves the contraceptive effectiveness of condoms. It is believed that nonoxynol-9 improves protection against STDs, including AIDS, but recent studies show that frequent use of nonoxynol-9 increases the risk of AIDS.

WHO believes that spermicidal condoms should not be promoted. On the other hand, according to the WHO, it is better to use a spermicidal condom than not to use any. By 2005, 9 manufacturers of condoms stopped production of condoms with nonoxynol-9, Planned Parenthood stopped distribution of such condoms, and FDA published the prevention concerning such condoms. Simultaneously, scholars argue that nonoxynol has good protective properties against gonorrhea and chlamydial infection.

The Female Condom

Yes, the female condom! They are bigger and wider than the male ones but have the same length. The female condom is provided with flexible annular input and it is inserted into the vagina. They contain an inner ring that helps the insertion and holds the condom fixed during sex. Some female condoms are made of polyurethane or polymerized with NITRILES, some others are made of latex. Since March 2008, latex female condoms are not on sale in the USA, but for some years already they have been on sale in Africa, Asia, and South America. Today, female condoms are not as popular as male ones. It is connected with several negative factors:

  • The inconvenience of use. The introduction of the condom requires some skills.
  • A sharp smell
  • higher cost of a femidom.

The Relief

For additional stimulation of a vagina or penis ribbed condoms are produced, condoms with pimples, short horns, dense tips, etc. Pimples or ribs can be on external, internal, or both surfaces of a condom; they can be localized in some certain part of a condom to stimulate, for example, a G-point or a crotch. The dense tip is necessary for additional stimulation of the man. It is necessary to avoid pimply condoms at anal sex as they irritate and anus and can hurt it. Some women feel vaginal irritation at using pimply condoms.

Other Condoms

There are condoms intended for collecting sperm for the purpose of infertility treatment or the analysis of sperm. They are arranged in a special way in order to maximize the lifetime of the sperm. Different designs of a female condom against rape are offered. They wound the penis of the rapist, causing him pain and giving the victim an opportunity to escape. Some “condoms” are used only for entertainment, protecting neither from pregnancy nor STDs. Examples include edible (candy) condoms.


Preventing Pregnancy

The effectiveness of condoms, as with most other contraceptive methods, is defined in two ways. At standard use, the statistics include all who use condoms. Perl’s index defining is usually applied – to the percent of women, who got pregnant within the first year of using the method. Some research cases use decrement tables.

At standard use efficiency decreases for several reasons:

  1. authors of instructions mistakes
  2. wrong following of the instruction
  3. refusal to follow the instruction

For example, the user may wear an expired condom because the producer forgot to include the date of storage, or because he did not pay attention to the appropriate place in the instructions, or maybe once he declines to use a condom. Also, due to improper use of the condom, it can slip or tear therefore it is necessary to undertake additional measures of protection from undesirable pregnancy.

Preventing STDs

Condoms are widely recommended for the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases. Although condoms don’t give a 100 % efficiency rate at protecting from HIV, genital herpes, genital warts, syphilis, chlamydia, gonorrhea, and other diseases. Condoms may be useful in treating potentially precancerous lesions of the cervix.

The Prevalence

The prevalence of condoms is highly variable from country to country. Most of the surveys on contraception show that condoms are used by married couples or men and women in informal relationships. On average, in developed countries, condoms are the most popular method of birth control: 28% of married contraceptive users rely on condoms.

The use of condoms for the prevention of diseases also varies. One survey conducted in 2001 among the male population of the USA showed that 35% used two condoms at the same time. Such practice is known under the name of “double bagging”.

How to Put a Condom on?

Male condoms are usually packaged in foil, rolled, and should be put on the tip of the erect penis, after that they must be deployed towards the root. It is important to hold the top tip at the end of the condom to leave a little space for the sperm, otherwise, it can spill out of the condom. After using a condom, it is recommended to knot it or wrap it in a tissue or toilet paper and it should be thrown away in the trash.

The Role of the Condom in Sexual Education

Condoms are often used in sexual educational programs, as their correct usage reduces the risk of pregnancy and STDs. According to the results of recent research, the American Psychological Association supported the inclusion of information about condoms in sex education and promoted the usage of condoms for those who are sexually active.