Condoms: Reinventing the wheel.

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You all know that I’m a slut by now; I have a draw filled with condoms; standard, flavoured, textured, female condoms and dental dams, Well recently, Lelo released a new product; a condom called the Lelo hex. Inspired by nature (graphene and bee hives), it uses hexagonal supports on the inside of the condom to provide extra grip and to catch fluids more effectively, while also being stronger and more durable…

shut-up-and-take-my-money

So I wanted to talk about condoms, in response to the new Lelo Hex and some safety concerns which were raised by Lorax of sex

THE HISTORY:

Condoms have been depicted in various forms for 15000 years, give or take. Egyptians and Greek labourers wore very sparse loincloths, sometimes consisting of just a covering for the head of the penis. Because of records showing that these were worn by men in the upper classes, some historians have posited that they were worn during intercourse, however: that interpretation has been questioned by others in the community.

During the roman empire, it is unknown whether they used prophylactics, as knowledge of them may have been lost during its fall. Following the decline of the roman empire (in the 5th century) though, the use of contraceptives actually fell in Europe, contraceptive pessaries, for instance, are not documented again until the 15th century. In the meantime, glans condom use is recorded in Asia among the upper classes; China using oiled silk paper or lamb intestines and Japan using tortoise shell or animal horn devices.

Jumping forward to the renaissance era, 1494 sees the first outbreak of what we now recognise as syphilis among French troops. The disease swept across Europe and within a decade had made it across to Asia. It wasn’t until the 16th century in Italy, where Gabriele Falloppio authored the first uncontested description of condom use; Linen sheaths soaked in a chemical solution and allowed to dry before use. Once again, these were designed to cover the glans (head of the penis) and were held on with a ribbon.

In addition to linen, these were often made out of intestines and bladder, as cleaned and prepared intestine had been sold commercially since at least the 13th century for use in glove making. These were designed to protect against the disease more than to act as a contraceptive, and the use of penis coverings to protect from disease is described in a wide variety of literature throughout Europe at this time.

The first point that these devices are being used for birth control rather than just for disease prevention is in ‘De iustitia et iure’, or ‘On justice and law’, a 1605 publication by Catholic theologian Leonardus Lessius, who condemned them as immoral. 1666 had seen a fall in fertility rates in England, which the English Birth Rate Commission put down to the use of ‘condons’, which was the first documented use of the word, even if the spelling isn’t perfect.

Zoom forward 250 years or so to 1912, where a German named Julius Fromm develops a new, improved manufacturing process known as ‘Cement Dipping’; Shaped glass is dipped into a raw rubber solution, where the rubber is suspended in gasoline or benzene. Pros: French condom manufacturers take the process and begin to add textures to condoms. Cons: the hydrocarbons led to a lot of fires, the process was labour-intensive as they had to trim and shape each one.

less than 10 years later, 1920, Latex is invented; Rubber suspended in water instead of hydrocarbons. Youngs Rubber Company is the first to take the initiative to start creating condoms from latex instead of rubber, which performed better for the consumer; stronger, thinner, had a shelf life of five years (rather than the three months of their rubber competitors), and due to the process being less labour intensive, they were cheaper all around. The lack of hydrocarbons also means that there were a lot fewer accidents involving condom factories burning down. 1929, Youngs starts to export these condoms to Europe, and in 1932, the London Rubber Company became Europe’s first manufacturer of latex condoms; the Durex.

1935 brought more attention to the quality of condoms; a biochemist tested 2000 condoms by filling each one with air and then water: and found that 60% of them leaked. the condom industry estimated that only 25% of condoms were quality checked before packaging. In 1937, the US Food and Drug Administration classified condoms as a drug, allowing laws to be passed to ensure that every single one was tested before being packaged (Youngs Rubber Company was the first to institute quality testing of every condom they made, starting 1938).

in 1940, the ‘Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act’ authorized the FDA to seize defective products. Within the first month, they had seized 864,000 condoms. US condom quality soared, but American condom manufacturers continued to export their rejects for sale in foreign markets.

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SO… WHAT?

So… Lelo has a page addressing their standards;  which has a single line “HEX not only meets but also succeeds all international safety standards. Furthermore, we electronically test each and every condom we ship to ensure the highest quality.”

Yay for QA, but there is a problem; While they may well be safe for use when they leave the factory, what about after that? Those who understand the importance of condom use will often have one (or more) on their person at all times: it’s good to be prepared, provided you take good care of your condoms:

  1. Make sure it is not out of date. If it is past it’s expiration or doesn’t even have an expiration date; toss it like it’s about to explode.
  2. Store them properly. cool, dry spaces; The best bet is a space that is at or just below room temperature. Condoms should also be kept out of direct sunlight.
  3. FIFO. “First In, First Out”, is as simple as it sounds; the ones expiring soonest should be used soonest.
  4. Don’t keep them too close. Keeping condoms in your wallet is not a good idea, according to the National Institutes of Health. Friction can cause them to deteriorate in quality. Instead, keep them in a safe container in a bag or purse.
  5. Common sense. If a condom looks brittle, discolored or like it might rip, throw it away.

Now, the good part about traditional condoms is that when they have begun to deteriorate, they tend to tear, like the one on the left, seen here in Lelo’s marketing materials:

lelo-hex-pop.gif

Now, when this happens during sex (Statistically less than 2% of the time according to Aids.org 2009 fact sheet: condoms) it is easy enough to reach over and grab another, but do you see the problem which the Lelo hex has?

As outlined above, condoms were traditionally made from the intestines of sheep, which are porous; lots of tiny holes, which while small enough to stop sperm escaping, were large enough to allow the STIs pass through. Well, I followed the example of the video and of Lorax before me, I stretched one over a glass and went to town.

The result was this: I couldn’t cause it to snap. I punctured it more times than I felt comfortable, I will liken it to that scene from Psycho where bates just straight up overarm swings again and again, but instead of following Marion Crane’s script, the Hex just sat there, with a ‘Come at me some more bro’ air of existence about it.

Why is this so important? a 2008 study of men attending an STD clinic reported that in the previous three months;

  • 29% put the condom on upside down and then turned it over
  • 28.4% removed the condom before completing intercourse
  • 30% experienced problems with the fit or feel of the condom
  • 31% had a condom break
  • 28.1% had erection loss while applying the condom (people who suffer condom-associated erection problems (CAEP) also report inconsistent condom use and not using condoms for the complete act of intercourse) *Thank you Kinsey institute!*

Now, if we assume that these figures all overlap completely, that is 31% of people who don’t store their condoms correctly. Their condom breaks and these are the ones who think to get checked out afterwards, just in case. Those 33% of subjects may not have been in this group, may not have realised that they should get tested, _may have caught something and passed it on_ if it weren’t for the broken condom.

Lelo, I love you. I am 100% behind you, you have spent seven years in R&D for these condoms, I admire, respect and share the commitment you all have to introducing everyone to amazing sex.

I want all of your products, I love your smart wand so so so much and yes, these condoms are amazing (as a chemist, I see all the engineering which went into these things and as a slut, I see their value), but that one critical flaw makes them unsafe, and until that is sorted in some way, I cannot and will not endorse these and will actively be telling the community to stock up on other brands.

-A very sad LaRasa

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