Condom experts told that size matters
As the world’s top condom experts convene this week to update international standards, one American entrepreneur has a simple message: Size matters. It’s shaking up an industry that has generally taken a one-size-fits-all approach.
Frank Sadlo, founder of TheyFit, which makes what he claims are the world’s first custom-fit condoms, is pushing for updated standards to allow greater variation in condom size.
It’s not just about well-endowed men in cramped prophylactic quarters, Sadlo told a meeting Thursday of delegates from 21 countries under the Geneva-based International Organization for Standardization.
When given a choice, he said many men prefer condoms smaller than the standard minimum 6.3 inches long, with more than half ordering those less than 5.12 inches.
At the session in Seogwipo on South Korea’s Jeju Island, more than 100 representatives -- including leading manufacturers, government standards bodies and aid groups -- pored over 42 pages of specifications and testing requirements for condoms.
Standards are especially crucial -- failure could mean the spread of potentially deadly diseases or unwanted pregnancy.
“Our job is to do away with inferior condoms,” said Eng Long Ong, meeting chairman and deputy head of the Malaysian Rubber Export Promotion Council, which estimates 13-14 billion condoms are made each year.
Getting quality condoms can be especially difficult in places like Africa, where they are a major part of AIDS prevention campaigns.
Ian Matondo, an adviser to the Malawi Health Ministry, said the issue of condoms breaking in Africa had nothing to do with the size of men’s penises but was due to poor manufacturing.
The standard for testing condom strength is to fill it with air, a technique pioneered by the Swedes in the 1950s. Condoms of the standard length and width must hold at least 4.76 gallons of air -- far more than they would ever be expected to contain under normal use.
Varying condom size would require standards and test equipment to change and is expected to require another a year for approval, Sadlo said.
The length issue is just one of many being debated at the five-day meeting, the 24th such session since 1975, where delegates were creating new standards for synthetic and female condoms.
Synthetic polyurethane condoms are an alternative for people allergic to rubber latex and can be thinner without losing strength. They also conduct heat better for “much more sensitivity with lovemaking,” said Grant Burt, international division director for Japan’s Sagami Rubber Industries Co.
Female condoms are seeing increasing use in Africa, where they are often distributed for free so women can take control of disease prevention, said Matondo.
Innovation for male condoms has focused on adding textures to enhance sexual pleasure, or offering different colors or lubricants. At the meeting, South Korean manufacturer Unidus displayed its “Long-Love” condom -- featuring desensitizing cream inside to prevent premature ejaculation so men “make a lasting impression.”
Widths vary but condom length is usually standard, as it believed latex can stretch to fit all men. The average adult penis is 5-6 inches long, experts said.
Sadlo said his inspiration for custom condoms arose from his days playing baseball at the University of Louisville in Kentucky, where locker room tales of exploits with the opposite sex often failed to include use of condoms due to complaints they did not fit.
A more comfortable condom contributes to men actually using them, said Michael Reece, director of the Center for Sexual Health Promotion at Indiana University.
“Typically, when a man complains about condom fit, we have assumed that he means that condoms are too small and we have often just ignored this complaint because we think that men are bragging about the size of their penis,” Reece said via e-mail.
He said men also have problems with condoms being too large.
“It is time for those who establish condom manufacturing standards to consider whether an expanded range of condom sizes is necessary,” Reece said.
Sadlo offers a “fit kit,” a sheet of paper printed from a computer for sizing -- and advising the user to watch out for paper cuts. The chart only runs from long to longer.
The product was offered from 2003-2006 in the United States before he withdrew it to upgrade from 55 to 95 sizes. Changing international standard would make it easier to widely offer the product, rather than seeking approval in each country.
Sadlo said it has been difficult to transform the condom industry.
“In order to bring about revolutionary change, you need to have the mind-set of a trailblazer, you need to keep focused on your vision,” he said.
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