Condoms come in all kinds of sizes, colours, shapes, flavours, for all kinds of purposes. In the Dutch Rubber Condom Decree the condom is described as "an object, by its nature intended to be fitted over the male member for the purpose of preventing conception or infection during intercourse". This sets down two important functions. In the course of time, the emphasis shifted from the prevention of venereal disease to contraception. Today avoiding infection from sexually transmitted diseases is more dominant. For this reason, more condoms providing extra protection are now available. These extra strong condoms come in several sizes and can be used for both anal and vaginal intercourse.
The condom is a thin and very flexible little cylinder made of latex. The closed end is either rounded or contains a small pocket to hold the sperm. There are also pre-shaped condoms. Besides ordinary condoms, there are condoms that not only cover the penis but the testicles as well. Condoms are mostly transparent or pink. Besides latex condoms there are still sheeps' gut condoms, so-called skin condoms. They can be used by people who are hypersensitive to latex. Skin condoms are not elastic and provide no protection against STD. They should only be used for contraception. Furthermore there is a condom for women. This consists of a small bag made from polyurethane that is held in place by a soft ring outside the vagina and a harder ring inside at the top of the vagina. Since 1995 there are also "male condoms" from polyurethane available.
Latex condoms are powdered. They are either packaged dry or with a lubricant (with or without a spermicide). Smooth sliding can be enhanced by a water-or silicone based lubricant. An oil or alcohol-based product can damage the material of the condom, so these should not be used. Sometimes spermicidal lubricants are added. A spermicide can, however, damage the latex after a period of time. Consequently a condom that contains it has a shorter shelf life. Above all, spermicides can evoke allergic reactions in some people. An anti-virus chemical, nonoxynol 9, is sometimes added to a spermicidal lubricant which can also lead to hypersensitive reactions. In addition there is a lubricant that contains a numbing agent, effective in delaying ejaculation.
The ISO, International Standards Organisation, has established quality standards for condoms, which are described in ISO 4074. The majority of condoms adhere to the ISO standard. In The Netherlands, stricter requirements were placed on the quality of condoms. These are laid down in the Rubber Condom Decree (dated 18/8/1979, pg. nr. 498) which is part of the Medical Resources Act. Besides the intense controls placed on condoms during manufacturing, they are again tested in laboratories recognised by the Dutch government (for example: TNO in Delft). Only after the condoms pass these legal quality requirements are they released for sale. Presently the European standard EN 600 is in effect in The Netherlands and Europe. The most important requirements are as follows: a condom must be sufficiently leak-proof and strong enough to withstand heavy use. The condoms are controlled through random testing for, among other things, strength and leakage. Condoms passing the test remain reliable for up to 5 years after the production date if they are stored in a cool, dark place (but not in the refrigerator). Condoms are individually packaged in airtight plastic or aluminium packets. They are sold in boxes, folders or cans and are accompanied by instructions for use. The last expiry date must also be stated on the pack. All condoms are meant to be used only once. The ISO and European standards do not apply to fun and fantasy condoms, which are available in all the colours of the rainbow, with ribs, little hands or roosters combs and are meant to inspire laughter and lust. Fantasy condoms are definitely not recommended as protection devices as they are not tested and there are absolutely no guarantees of their effectiveness.
Condoms never offer 100% safety, but used properly they are very reliable and give good protection against pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.
illustration: copyright Bill Bodewes