Most male condoms available for sale in the U.S. are made of latex. They all meet the same FDA standards and are considered to be an effective way to prevent pregnancy and reduce the risk of spreading sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV. According to Planned Parenthood, when it comes to HIV, using a condom makes sex 10,000 times safer than not using a condom. Planned Parenthood is such a strong advocate of condom use, the national health network dispenses them free at all its centers nationwide.
In the 1990s a few manufacturers began making non-latex male condoms for people with latex allergies who choose to use condoms. There are five different non-latex male condoms and one non-latex female condom available for sale in the U.S.
Polyurethane Non-Latex Condoms Versus Latex
Polyurethane has many advantages over latex as a condom material. It conducts heat better than latex and therefore is not as noticeable. Polyurethane condoms also are thinner than most latex condoms, and they have little to no smell. Another advantage is that exposure to oil-based products will not damage them. On the downside, polyurethane doesn’t stretch as much like latex or polyisoprene, so slippage and breakage rates are higher. In addition, the effectiveness of polyurethane condoms in preventing transmission of STDs is still being studied.
There are two brands of polyurethane male condoms: (Durex Avanti condoms and Trojan Supra condoms) and one brand of polyurethane female condom, (Reality Female Condom).
The World Health Organization notes that the female condom is effective in preventing re-infection of trichomoniasis (a common vaginal infection), and studies show the material is an effective barrier to organisms smaller than those known to cause STDs. But the products are still too new to have enough long-term data to be able to definitively say that polyurethane condoms are an effective barrier.
As a result of the incomplete picture, the FDA requires manufacturers to label their condoms with warnings like this one:
The risks of pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases (STD’s), including AIDS (HIV infection), are not known for this condom. A study is being done. There are laboratory tests on this non-latex material. These tests show that organisms even as small as sperm and viruses like HIV cannot pass through it.
When comparing the effectiveness of latex versus polyurethane condoms, while non-latex condoms are not equal in effectiveness as latex condoms (in regards to preventing pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases), according to the Planned Parenthood organization, they are a suitable substitute for individuals with latex allergies.
Polyisoprene Non-Latex Condoms: A Healthy Alternative
In 2008, LifeStyle’s introduced a non-latex condom called SKYN made from a material called polyisoprene. This material is a synthetic version of a material derived from the sap of the Hevea tree and contains no latex proteins, but it’s as strong and safe as latex. Polyisoprene condoms are not as thin as polyurethane, but they are stretchy and have a lower breakage and slippage rates.
The company also made these non-latex condoms available at a much lower cost, comparable to latex condoms. Unlike polyurethane, SKYN condoms made of polyisoprene have been FDA approved and are considered an effective method of preventing pregnancy and reducing the spread of STDs.
Natural (Otherwise Called Lamb) Skin Condoms
Natural animal membrane is the oldest material used in making condoms. People who use these condoms particularly like the feel of the natural membrane. However, these condoms come with their own risks. First, they do not provide protection against STDs and are only considered to be effective as a prevention against unwanted pregnancy. Second, the natural skin condoms are extremely expensive (as much as $3 or $4 per condom). Lastly, natural skin condoms have a unique, and some say barnyard smell.