As a young pharmacy intern, one of my first encounters with somebody embarrassed buying condoms happened at Laverdiere’s Drug Store. A young man had been hovering near the pharmacy check out counter and finally, when other customers had departed and he had only me to deal with, he quickly grabbed a box from the condom display and brought it up to buy his box of three original Trojans. I could see he had a dollar bill clutched in his hand and when I rang it up and told him the total he looked confused, worried, and sad all at the same time.
“That will be a dollar and three cents,” I told him.
He stammered back, “it says ninety-nine cents!.”
“Well there’s four cents for the tax,” I replied, and now he looked downright terrorized.
“If you have to hold them on with tacks, forget it!” he cried and started to beat a hasty retreat.
I was able to coax him back to the counter and give him some solid advice on proper condom use and kicked in the three cents so he could go on his merry way.
The scenario is apocryphal, of course, and comes from an old pharmacy joke that has probably been around as long as condoms and taxes. Truly though, I have counseled many a young man on condom use and other ins and outs of safer sex.
Early attempts at condoms or some sort of penile protection were usually cloth based, linens and silk mostly. This reminds me of the even older joke about the traveling salesman who revisits a lass that he had frolicked with on his last circuit through town only to find that she had a fair-haired young son about whom he remarked, “He sure is a fine young lad.” The woman shot back, “He should be fine, he was strained through a silk handkerchief.”
We tend to give the Romans credit for the first use of the more effective goat bladder condom. An Italian doctor, Gabriel Falloppio, is believed to have taken sheaths of lamb gut, tied one end with a ribbon, and anchored on the erect penis with another ribbon. “Look! A present for you!” These were often rinsed out and reused and can be seen hanging to dry in some late 16th century artwork.
Today we have a wide assortment of condoms available, offering a variety of sizes, shapes, colors, flavors and scents. Package claims even stretch into the realm of providing an enhanced sexual experience. Some focus on sexual pleasure with promises of arousal, intense pleasure, double ecstasy, and even intensified charged orgasmic pleasure! Wow! I must admit that I have not used a condom in many years and had no idea they were electrically charged nowadays!
We do not have electric condoms yet, although there is a vibrating ring with its tiny little battery, so we’re getting close. The condoms in question use a “intensified lubricant” and strategically designed and placed “ribs” or ridges to provide the charge. “Price check on Charged Orgasm condoms on register three!”
This all started when I was unlocking the condom case one morning and I noticed the huge variety of condoms (and even vibrating rings!) that we had in stock, all sporting a variety of sexy claims. I wondered how they did it. Chemicals must be used that create these sensations and so I asked my students to have a look at the ingredients and report what types of things were used in or on condoms to support the package claims.
What if somebody had an allergic reaction to a condom? Would they know what caused it? The ladies began a passionate pursuit of new knowledge…
This turns out to be a daunting task. It’s a secret! Not much info is provided beyond whether the condom is latex or not, have nonoxynol-9 as a spermicide, and then simply state if a lubricant is present. Or in the case of the Climax Control versions, that benzocaine, an anesthetic, is used. There is a “Fire and Ice” Trojan which I suspect may use castor oil (!) for warming and menthol (!) for cooling, although I have no way to verify that. I did find hydrogenated castor oil listed as an ingredient in some personal lubricants.
We were able to find that various things may be added to the latex during the vulcanization process, but that is proprietary information. We were able to learn from secondary sources that condom manufacturers sometimes use the milk protein, casein, and the lack of casein supports the claim of “Vegan Certified.”
We found that parabens may be used. Parabens are another one of those chemicals commonly used in our cosmetics and personal hygiene products, ostensibly to prevent bacterial growth. Parabens have been found in breast tumors, although no causal relationship has been established. Parabens are thought to be endocrine disruptors (remember the Triclosan blog?) and have estrogenic activity, although, according to the FDA, “they have been shown to have much less estrogenic activity than the body’s naturally occurring estrogen.” Great. I’d be concerned about soaking my dick in estrogen every night! OK, OK, maybe not every night.
Glycerin, a hydroscopic sugar alcohol, is a relatively safe lubricating liquid with a variety of uses, most relating to its hydrating effect. Being a sugar alcohol, it is somewhat sweet and edible. However, there are numerous reports from women of increased frequency of yeast infection when exposed to glycerin found on condoms.
So here’s the rub. The FDA addresses condom labeling under the general device labeling regulations with addendum for expiration dating and warnings about latex allergy when appropriate. There is no regulatory compulsion to disclose anything about other additives or chemicals used in the vulcanization process, lubricants, or anything they care to squirt into that little foil pouch.
So its up to you to cover your own ass, so to speak. Choose wisely, grasshopper. I would recommend the KISS principle here: Keep It Simple, Stupid, you don’t need a chemical bath for your penis to achieve intense pleasure, nor should you expose your lover to unknown risks.
Here are just a few of the varieties that we have in stock:
Trojan sports the biggest and longest product line. See it here.
Durex is also in the game in a big way.
Sir Richard promises fewer chemicals and for every condom they sell to you they promise to give one to a poor person in a developing country.
Research assistants: Hannah Shorb, PharmD candidate Midwestern University, Glendale and Thao Truong, PharmD candidate University of Arizona