Condoms come in a variety of styles and colors. Some have a reservoir tip to catch semen while others – the so-called “ticklers” – have rubber projections which supposedly increase vaginal stimulation.
There are colorless, transparent and brightly colored condoms. But all of them are used the same way. Before intercourse, the condom is rolled onto the erect penis to prevent sperm from entering the vagina.
How effective are condoms in preventing pregnancy? This thin rubber sheath is about 70 to 90 percent effective, depending on how it is used and the kind of condom you have. But accidents do happen. That’s because the condom may either break or slip off. As the editors of Consumer Guide’s “Family Health & Medical Guide” pointed out:
“Several problems may occur with the use of the condom. For example, tiny holes or tears may develop in the sheath, causing leakage of sperm. Also, when the penis is withdrawn from the vagina as intercourse is completed, the condom sometimes breaks or practically unrolls inside the vagina, releasing its contents.”
“How often do condoms tear or slip off during intercourse? Surprisingly, no one is sure. About 12 percent of condoms made in the United States and 21 percent of those made abroad fail the (Food and Drug Administration’s) periodic spot checks for defects. And in the very few studies of actual use, the condom either slipped or broke from four to 15 out of a hundred times during vaginal intercourse,” added Deborah Franklin in Health magazine.
Things were much worse in the past. In the 1930’s, prior to rigid standards set by the FDA, as many as three-fourths of all condoms in the market were found to be defective. When the FDA stepped into the picture by examining all kinds of condoms – both local and imported – these defects were minimized and manufacturers themselves started improving their stocks.
One test used by the FDA to check the condom’s quality and strength is the standard water test. In this test, a condom is filled with water and is examined for leaks or bulges which indicate thin spots that could break later.
“Since April 1987, (FDA) inspectors have shown up unannounced at condom factories to review records and sample condoms at random, checking for cracks, mold, dry or sticky rubber, and the like. Chiefly, however, the agents run a standard water test – filling condoms with about 10 ounces of water – to spot pinholes. If they find leaks in the equivalent of more than four per 1,000 condoms in a production run, that entire lot must be destroyed – often tens of thousands of condoms or more. Imports are inspected, too, at their port of entry,” according to the editors of Consumer Reports.
“The standard test involves the introduction of 300 milliliters (ml) of fluid, suspending the condom for one to three minutes, and testing for leaks. The average ejaculate (semen) is only 3 ml so 300 ml goes a long way in assuring that the condoms are strong enough,” added Dr. Michael Lim Tan, executive director of the Health Action Information Network, in Health Alert. (Next: How to use a condom.)