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Am Fam Physician. 1999;60(1):271-272

The use of condoms has risen dramatically in the past few years. When used correctly and consistently, condoms are inexpensive and highly effective in preventing pregnancy and decreasing the risk of infection with sexually transmitted diseases. Condoms are classified as a medical device and are randomly regulated and tested by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Condom failure is usually attributable to either inappropriate use or product deterioration. One possible cause of condom deterioration is exposure to oily substances. Many people are aware of this danger and avoid using lubricants that contain mineral oil or vegetable oil. Rosen and Rosen observed the potential risk for condom rupture after short exposures to common over-the-counter vaginal preparations.

Fresh latex condoms from the same manufacturer's lot number were used in the study. An air pump that tested condom rupture time was set to deliver a constant pressure of 4 psi. Each of the vaginal preparations was placed on the condoms for five minutes and then washed off with tap water. The condoms were air-dried before the test. A control group of condoms that were not exposed to the vaginal preparations was also used.

The mean burst time for each group was obtained by averaging the individual burst times of 20 condoms using the air pump. The mean burst time for the control group was 59.8 seconds. Pure mineral oil reduced the burst time to 11.2 seconds. Vaginal preparations that did not contain mineral or vegetable oil did not affect the burst time. In addition, two commonly used anti-pruritic preparations (Vagisil and Vagicaine) that contained mineral oil did not significantly reduce the burst time. Agents that reduced the burst time included one vaginal moisturizer (Replens), and miconazole antifungal creams and suppositories.

Women regularly use various over-the-counter vaginal preparations, especially anti-fungal preparations. Because these are no longer prescription medications, a significant number of women have used the products. If women are relying on condom integrity for prevention of pregnancy or provision of “safe sex,” the use of preparations that contain mineral or vegetable oil can have a significant impact on the integrity of the condom.

The authors conclude that patients should be cautioned about the simultaneous use of condoms and over-the-counter vaginal preparations.

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Copyright © 1999 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.

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