What are condoms made of?
Throughout history, condoms made out of various materials have existed—the most common material being latex from rubber trees. Owing to their ready availability and affordability, latex condoms are widely used. However, a significant number of people have been making the shift from latex to non-latex condoms.
Why use condoms?
Condoms protect you from STI's and pregnancy. Anyone can get HIV and other STI's, however, there are precautions you can take to reduce your risk and protect yourself from HIV. To reduce your risk of getting HIV, use condoms (safely and correctly) EVERYTIME you have sex, this could be vaginal, oral or anal. Sex is the most common way that HIV is passed on.
Why are people switching? Should I be doing the same?
One common reason to switch from latex to non-latex condoms is undoubtedly a latex allergy. Some people have an allergy to certain proteins found in natural rubber latex. The symptoms of this can range from mild ones like itchy skin and hives to life-threatening ones like anaphylaxis with severe breathing difficulty and throat swelling. This automatically removes latex condoms out of the picture, but because not many people are aware that other options exist, they sometimes risk not using protection. Alternatives to latex condoms include polyurethane condoms, natural membrane condoms and polyisoprene condoms.
What are polyurethane condoms?
Polyurethane condoms are made from a material known as polyurethane which is actually thin clear plastic. These condoms are FDA-approved as an effective birth control method and they prevent spread of sexually transmitted diseases. Many users have expressed that these condoms increase sensitivity during sex since they are not as tight as latex condoms and transmit heat better. The disadvantage however is that there are higher chances of them slipping off due to a loose fit. Polyurethane condoms are available in female versions as well.
What are natural membrane condoms?
The condoms made out of raw materials from animals are termed as natural membrane condoms, out of which, the lambskin condoms are most common. They are made from lamb cecum, a pouch located at the beginning of a lamb’s small intestine. Lambskin condoms help to prevent pregnancy but are not completely effective in preventing transmission of sexually transmitted infections. This is because natural membrane condoms have tiny pores that, while able to block sperm, cannot do the same for viruses. Therefore it is only advisable for partners who have tested negative for STIs to use them. Lambskin condoms also seem to provide increased sensitivity, transmit body heat and feel more natural than latex condoms. One added advantage is that they are biodegradable. Latex is also biodegradable but latex condoms contain other materials other than latex. Lambskin condoms can be used with lubricants of all bases unlike latex (which cannot be used with oil-based ones.)
What are polyisoprene condoms?
Polyisoprene condoms are made from synthetic rubber which means they are the synthetic versions of latex condoms. These condoms do not contain plant proteins from natural rubber that actually cause the allergic reactions. Polyisoprene condoms are FDA approved to help prevent pregnancy and protect against STIs. They can be used with lubricants that are water based or silicon based but not oil based. This material is stretchier, more form fitting and thus more comfortable than other non-latex condoms. They have the advantages of latex condoms without triggering the latex allergy and hence is the best alternative for users with latex allergies. Polyurethane condoms and lambskin condoms are considerably more expensive than latex condoms. Polyisoprene, though slightly more expensive than latex condoms, are the much more affordable alternative to latex condoms. In fact, if bought in bulk, the price difference does not seem to make a huge impact.
It is clear that the main reason for a switch from latex to non-latex condoms is a latex allergy, but it may not be the only one. Some people who have tried both can prefer non-latex condoms for various reasons; be it about not liking the smell of latex condoms or that non latex condoms give a natural feel. In the end, it comes down to personal preference. Every individual is different and the best way is to try out your options and choose the one you like best.