With the name deriving from the Latin word ‘condus’, meaning receptacle, condoms in the 21st Century are a comfortable second-skin worn to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, but this hasn’t always been the case.
The Ancient Romans reportedly used animal bladder or gut, linen and – although eye-wateringly hard to believe – tortoiseshell, as a sexual protection tool. How much protection these materials would have provided, we don’t know!
1565 saw the first documented use of a condom in Europe. During the Tudor period, just after King Henry VIII’s reign, condoms were primarily used to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, as opposed to pregnancy.
STD’s, namely Syphilis, were often fatal up until the early 1900s, and so many pioneers tried and tested different crude versions of condoms over the course of history.
All hail the American inventor/self-taught Chemist and manufacturing engineer Charles Goodyear, whose name is more synonymous with rubber tyres. His rubber vulcanization process, patented in 1844, was revolutionary in the production of rubber products. His innovative methods led to the first rubber condom being produced in 1855. A much more comfortable and efficient version of its predecessors, Goodyear’s creation has been refined further over the years with the developments in latex.
Condoms are made in manufacturing facilities, produced by dipping varying size, shape, style and texture glass moulds into vats of latex. They are dipped twice to produce thin, yet strong and flexible films of latex, and reinforced and washed in a solution, to give a silky smooth feel for a satisfying experience. Once the manufacturing process is complete, the condom is then rolled down for the purpose of pocket-sized, discreet packaging, and injected with lubricant, before being packaged by heat, sealing two opposing foil webs together.
To ensure their utmost reliability, condoms are tested for durability and robustness by being filled with air or water, and often manually stretched. The random testing of batches during production is key to creating consistently reliable condoms. After all, the implications of one less-than-perfect batch are extraordinary.
Put simply, condoms work by keeping semen secure in the wearer’s second skin, without coming into contact with their sexual partner’s genitalia, known as a ‘barrier method’. This occurs by creating an impermeable barrier, so sperm is contained within the condom.
Without the wearer’s genitals coming into contact with said partner, the barrier prevents sexually-transmitted infected pathogens from being transferred from person to person, as well as sperm never meeting one's eggs, preventing pregnancy. A simple, reliable, cost-effective method, which is 98% effective!
In short, condoms are effective at preventing pregnancy and STD’s, however, it is vital to use them correctly. When used perfectly, condoms are 98% effective at both preventing pregnancy and protecting against most STI’s, including common sexually transmitted infections chlamydia and gonorrhoea.
User instructions need to be closely followed to ensure effectiveness. We know that many couples use condoms incorrectly, and they can occasionally split, so studies suggest condoms are closer to 85% effective due to incorrect usage. Remember, never use an expired condom, store in a cool, dry place, and always check for tears or defects before use!
Here is more information on STI’s from the NHS:
As condoms are classed as approved medical devices, each one is stringently quality checked to ensure it meets the highest government and industry quality standards – each one needs to be as reliable as the next.
The first (of many!) tests is in the form of an electronic check for defects, which occurs whilst loaded onto a stainless steel shaft. This apparatus can detect even the smallest of pinholes, with any damaged condoms discarded.
After being removed from the shaft, the all-important elasticity and strength are tested, by being pumped with 25 litres of air per minute, as well as being filled with water. Doubling up on tests means more effective results.
Scientists in the manufacturing facilities also carry out chemical tests to ensure lubricants meet industry standards and ensure their compatibility with the compounds of the latex.
Once each individual condom is declared safe, they are vacuum packaged by heat-sealing two opposing foil webs together, which is when it makes its way to our stores.
Yes! It’s a little known fact, but it is vital to check the expiry date on condoms before use. The expiry date is generally 5 years after the manufacture date, and you can easily find the expiration date on the back of each foil, as well as on the box. Its effectiveness will reduce after this time, and it becomes more likely to break due to the expired lubricant, so a quick check before use may save a whole lot of issues down the line.
Condoms come in all shapes, lengths and sizes (just like penises do!), so it’s important to take time to find the perfect fit, resulting in more pleasure, better performance and maximum protection – the three Ps!
There are a few things to consider when purchasing condoms. First of all, size. If your condom becomes baggy at the end because it is too big, or doesn’t quite reach the bottom of the shaft because it’s too small, not only are they uncomfortable for the wearer, but ill-fitting condoms can become less effective, and more likely to tear.
Another aspect to consider is textured condoms for mutual pleasure. With a dotted, ribbed exterior, textured condoms are preferred by many couples for an added layer of stimulation, however, textured condoms tend to be thicker, and so it doesn’t replicate the ‘second skin’ feeling like thin condoms do.
There are plenty of weird and wonderful styles of condoms, to meet the needs of all couples. From cooling, warming and even tingling condoms to maximise stimulation, to novelty glow in the dark alternatives, and flavoured condoms for oral sex to vegan condoms made from naturally sourced, fair-trade latex, there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to sexual protection.
The most popular condom is determined by region. For example, popular brands in the US, such as Trojan, are not readily available in the UK.
In the UK, Durex is undoubtedly a frontrunner, and the most commonly known condom brand, with their ‘Surprise Me’ and ‘RealFeel’ lines the most popular, although Skyn and MySize are certainly runners up, due to their high-quality selection of condoms with multiple ranges and sizes available.
A common misconception is that the thinner the condom, the less safe they are however, this isn’t true. All condoms have to meet stringent quality standards, so you can rest assured that whatever condom you select, it will keep you protected, providing it is from a reputable retailer. Durex’s extra safe range does offer extra protection based on a mighty duo. With increased lubrication, meaning less likely to snag, as well as a thicker skin, this range offers you an added layer of confidence, ideal particularly for more vigorous intercourse.
For the animal lovers out there, you can wrap up safe in the knowledge that your condom is vegan! Not all condoms are vegan-friendly, but there is an extensive range that shuns animal products from their ingredients list.
Vegan-approved, high-quality condoms are made from Fair Trade-approved natural latex. Vegan condoms are free from Casein, a protein in cow’s milk that is very commonly used in the manufacturing of regular latex condoms to make it smooth, soft and thin.
A number of Durex’s condoms in the non-latex line are suitable for vegans, including Avanti Ultima, Fetherlite Ultra, and Deluxe, however, Fair Squared and Sheer Glyde are better known for their vegan condoms and flavoured dams for female use. For those intolerant to dairy products, specifically milk, it is advised to opt for a vegan alternative to avoid any adverse reactions to your condom.
Vegan condoms are actually growing in popularity worldwide with many stating the environment benefits
The short answer is no, condoms cannot prevent herpes entirely, however they do lower the transmission risk. Herpes can be transmitted by oral or skin-to-skin contact, so condoms alone cannot completely prevent herpes.
There are many studies surrounding the risk of transmitting herpes, which has shown that the risks differ between males and females, with males more likely to pass herpes on to females than vice versa. A study by Children's Hospital Research Institute and the University of Washington found that those who used ‘condoms 100% of the time had a 30% lower risk of contracting genital herpes. Among less consistent condom users, the risk of HSV-2 infection decreased by 7% for every 25% increase in condom use during vaginal or anal sex’.
We know that herpes can be spread through oral sex, however, there have been no studies on the impact of condoms preventing the spread this way.
Flavoured condoms are designed purely for ultimate enjoyment during oral sex, although most are safe to use for penetration too. Flavoured condoms are some of the most popular, as they help to mask the potent taste of latex with a sweeter flavour.
It is important to remember that STI’s are transmitted through all kinds of sexual activity, so safety comes first! Oral sex without protection puts you at risk of sexually transmitted infections, therefore condoms should be worn for oral sex, vaginal penetration and anal sex.
With natural friction and a lack of lubrication, it is not uncommon for condoms to break, however, the good news is that there are ways to prevent it, to keep you and your partner protected!
A point which many people fail to consider is steering clear of sharp objects when using a condom, which includes teeth, piercings, jewellery and sharp nails! The tiniest of scrapes can lead to a tear, so it is best to remove all sharp articles from the body before use.
Now, you may wish to lather up with your favourite massage oils and use a divine-smelling lubricant while you get down to business, but it’s vital that you check their properties to ensure they won’t weaken your condom. Chemicals and water-based lubricants can weaken the latex properties, so it’s best to rely on the lubricant already on the condom, and not take any chances.
Ensure your condom fits perfectly to your shaft. It needs to be put on correctly, which means leaving enough room at the tip of the condom to prevent it from ripping during ejaculation. There are plenty of sizes available, from ‘snug fit’ XS, all the way to XL, so ensure you opt for the correct size for ultimate protection.
Lastly, do the correct checks! Your condoms should be stored in a cool, dry place, away from sunlight and harsh chemicals to avoid being dried out. You should also check the expiration date before use, no matter how recently you purchased it. An expired condom means a weaker condom.
With Durex reporting a 10% jump in condom sales in the UK since lockdown restrictions were eased, it seems the ban on sexual relationships with those from other households hasn’t dampened Brits’ desires.
A 2020 study, exclusive to British Condoms, found that only 27% of Brits said that they had used a condom the last time they had sex, with 18% admitting to thinking it’s embarrassing to purchase condoms. 25% of those in the study believed it should be up to the man to carry condoms.
New research has emerged, published by Sexually Transmitted Infections into British men and women aged between 40 and 59 years, who are, or are considering, new sexual partners after the break-up of a long-term relationship. This study showed some astounding results, such as the individuals reporting low sexual health risk, despite many admitting to sex without condoms and a lack of STI tests, as well as an unwillingness to discuss contraception with their new partner.
It seems this trend extends over the pond, as a 2020 study by Statistica Research Department found that 292 million US adults don’t use condoms, with only 33.44 million reporting that they do in fact use barrier protection.