What's in Your Condom?

Let's have a condom talk with a side of science and a good dose of activism, shall we? 

A study conducted by the Reproductive Health Technologies Project (RHTP) and the Center for Environmental Health (CEH) revealed that one-third of 23 condoms tested release nitrosamines. Let's take a moment to brush up on our facts via our friends at Sustain:

What are nitrosamines?
Nitrosamines are a chemical by-product, or impurity, formed during the manufacturing process when certain chemical compounds break down into nitrates. As these compounds break down over time, they can recombine to form nitrosamines. The RHTP and CEH study found nitrosamines in one-third of the condoms tested, but they can also form in nearly every kind of personal care product, including mascara, concealer, conditioner, baby shampoo, pain-relief salve and sunless tanning lotion. It is because nitrosamines are so prevalent in our environment that we should take steps to reduce our exposure to them wherever possible.

What are the health concerns?
Nitrosamines can contribute to the development of tumors in several organs and specifically can cause cancer of the penis, stomach, cervix, urinary bladder and vagina. [3]

Numerous studies and databases link nitrosamines to cancer. They are listed as possible or known human carcinogens by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency [4], the International Agency for Research on Cancer [5] and the U.S. National Toxicology Program. [6]

There is also some evidence that endocrine disruption can be caused by nitrosamines at very low doses.

What should be done?

Although the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in 2010 recommended that manufacturers reduce the presence of nitrosamines in condoms, the U.S. FDA has yet to take this problem seriously. In fact, there are no FDA limits on permissible levels of nitrosamines in condoms.

The FDA should issue an industry standard to keep detectable levels of nitrosamines out of condoms.

What can you do?

Continue to use condoms. Condoms are safe and effective. Sex without condoms can result in unintended pregnancy or spread sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS. But know that you can choose condoms that do not increase your exposure to nitrosamines.

Become a smart shopper and ask your favorite condom manufacturer what they are doing to ensure their products are nitrosamine-free. Because nitrosamines are in the air we breathe, the water we drink and the products we buy, we should reduce our exposure to them anywhere we can.


[1] Making a Good Thing Even Better: Removing Nitrosamines from Condoms. Reproductive Health Technologies Project and Center for Environmental Health. September 2014.

[2] World Health Organization (WHO), UNAIDS, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), and Family Health International (FMI). Male Latex Condoms. Specification, Prequalification and Guidelines for Procurement, 2010 (revised 2013). Http//www.unfpa,org/webday/site/global/shared/procurement/07 resources/malecondoms_specs_procurement_2010.pdf Published 2010.

[3] International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health, Toxicological Evaluation Of Nitrosamines In Condoms.2001.

[4] U.S. EPA (2012). N-Nitrosodimethylamine (CASRN 62-75-9). Intregrated Risk Information
System. http://www.epa.gov/iris/subst/0045.htm

[5] Agents Classified by the IARC Monographs, Volumes 1–109 [Online]. Available online:http://monographs.iarc.fr/ENG/Classification/ClassificationsAlphaOrder.pdf. Accessed November 5, 2013.

[6] Report on Carcinogens, Twelfth Edition (2011) [Online]. Available online: http://ntp.niehs.nih.gov/ntp/roc/twelfth/profiles/Nitrosamines.pdf. Accessed November 5, 2013.

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