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Renewed Demand For Condoms Sends Manufacturers Back To Drawing Board

September 6, 1987

BOSTON (AP) _ Researchers and prophylactic makers are trying to build a better condom, motivated by renewed demand since the advent of AIDS and the fear of catching the deadly sexually transmitted disease.

The condom takes its name from the Latin word for envelope. The first ones were fashioned from animal intestine and were common in 17th century Britain. Rubber or latex condoms were invented in the last century.

So far, only lamb intestine and latex make usable condoms. But viruses can pass throught pores in the intestine. And latex melts when exposed to petroleum-based lubricants. Condoms also disintegrate when exposed to too much heat or light.

Pioneers in condom technology include Dr. John Sullivan, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester.

Sullivan is secretive about his project and rejected repeated requests for an interview. But he has said he is devising a model that contains the spermicide and virus-killer nonoxynol-9 in such a way that it can act as a sealant if the condom breaks.

There is no sound clinical data yet on the failure rate of condoms, so even health officials who promote their use warn they don’t provide total protection.

Recent federal Food and Drug Administration inspections found that about 20 percent of 204 batches flunked government requirements for reliability. The standard is that if four out of 1,000 condoms leak water, the batch is a failure.

A year ago, the Mentor company of Minneapolis came out with a condom with a band of adhesive. The band helps the condom retain fluids, Jane O’Meara, Mentor’s condom product manager, said in a telephone interview.

New Jersey-based Ansell, the country’s biggest maker of condoms, is touting its new LifeStyles brand extra-strength condom as the strongest condom in the United States.

Reluctant to reveal trade secrets, Eugene Freed, chief of marketing for Ansell, said claims of being 25 percent stronger than previous models have government approval. This strengthening is accomplished by a new method of processing the latex, he said.

The impetus to build a better condom is both a matter of business and of getting people to use them to prevent the spread of acquired immune deficiency syndrome, Freed said.

″It’s a matter of peace of mind, to make you feel more secure. We want people to feel good about using condoms,″ he said.

A thinner-skinned condom is an objective of research at Carter-Wallace in New York, the maker of Trojan brand condoms.

″Sensitivity is a major concern,″ said Mark Klein, chief of the Carter- Wallace family products division.

Terry Beirn, program officer of the American Foundation for AIDS Research in New York, applauds the condom’s comeback and efforts to improve it. But these go only so far, he said.

″A condom is still kind of an adolescent boy’s joke material,″ Beirn said. ″We’re trying to bring back this tool so people don’t giggle. ... The best protection is good common sense. You want to be sure who your sexual partner is and who you are.″

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