How enviro-friendly is your condom?

Photo: istockphoto.com/Roman Sigaev
Condoms have come a long way since the days when they had to be hidden under the counter. They've gone mainstream but how enviro-friendly are they? Not readily accepted First developed during a syphilis epidemic in 16th century Europe, the rubber condom was introduced in 1861, dubbed 'Dr. Power's French Preventatives.' The 1873 Comstock Law made condoms illegal in the U.S. without a prescription. Advertising birth control was forbidden and the postal service could confiscate condoms sent through the mail. With the introduction of the pill and IUD, the condom almost became obsolete. But the 1980s HIV/AIDS epidemic would see condoms make a dramatic comeback and sell in greater numbers than ever before. Not all condoms are created equal There just aren't that many green condoms out there. You basically have three choices:
  • Natural sheepskin: Probably the greenest of them all, these condoms are actually made from lamb intestines. They do "feel more natural" and can be used with any type of oil or water based lubricant. But they offer no protection against STDs or HIV/AIDS so are recommended for monogamous couples only. They are also the most expensive.
  • Latex: The most common type available, latex condoms vary from brand to brand. They do offer protection against HIV/AIDS and other STDs but only if used with a water-based lubricants. Vaseline, hand lotion or other oil based lubricants will make this condom melt and your protection along with it. Another complaint: they leave a bad taste in your mouth.
  • Polyurethane (plastic): People with latex allergies can find relief with the polyurethane condom. They can be used with any type of lubricant and have no after taste but are twice the price of a latex condom. There are concerns about how much protection they offer. Laboratory tests have found these condoms break three times more often than those made from latex.
  • For entertainment purposes only Condoms that glow-in-the-dark, promise to tickle or titillate, are coloured or have a special message are just for fun. Unless they specifically state they have been approved and meet all standards for regular condoms, don't use them for any kind of protection. Just how much protection There is growing debate over just how much protection a condom can give. Condoms have been known to fail for a variety of reasons. The World Health Organization maintains that "consistent and correct" condom use reduces the risk of HIV/AIDS infection by 90 percent. Other studies quote that figure at 85 percent. The myth that the HIV virus can pass through latex has been disproved by several studies. Despite concerns over flaws and breakage, there is no doubt that after abstinence condoms provide the safest level of protection against STDs including HIV/AIDS. World-wide use Countries around the world are promoting the use of condoms. Last summer conservative China held a condom fashion show at the 4th China Reproductive Health New Technologies & Products Expo. Brazilian artist Adriana Bertini has become famous for her fashions made from rejected condoms that would have gone into the landfill. South Africa introduced the Pronto condom, designed by Willem van Rensburg. The Pronto makes putting on a condom quick and painless, addressing the main reason South African men were refusing to use condoms. Effective use So while there aren't any truly organic, vegan, green condoms out there, preventing the spread of STDs and stopping unwanted pregnancies is probably the greenest thing you can do. Just be sure to use them properly:
  • Latex condoms and oil-based lubricants are not a good mix. Vaseline, lotions and even whip cream will weaken or break your latex condom. That also includes anything with mineral oil.
  • Hot temperatures and humidity will make your condom deteriorate -- guys, take it out of the glove compartment.
  • Nonoxynol-9 is a spermicidal commonly found on condoms and in lubricants. Some people are allergic to nonoxynol-9 so do a patch test before using.
  • Double bagging may be counter-productive since the action of latex on latex may actually weaken the condom.
  • Be sure to wrap up your used condom in some recycled toilet paper and place it in the trash bin. Don't flush it down the toilet where it can block pipes or end up in the our lakes and rivers to be mistaken for food by marine life.
  • Find out more about proper condom use at Rip N Roll. Anne Colvey and Kim Castleton both contributed to this article. Anne Colvey is based in Montreal and Kim Castleton is based in Vancouver.