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How Condoms Work


Other Types of Condoms
This condom is protecting a microphone at a stadium from rain.
This condom is protecting a microphone at a stadium from rain.
© iStockphoto/Gizmo

­Although the World Health Organization (WHO) standards describe a colorless, odorless condom that's shaped like a simple sheath with a reservoir at the end, a range of other condoms are available on the market. This includes colored and flavored models as well as ones adorned with everything from faces to studs. Many of these aren't recommended for contraception or disease prevention because their varying thicknesses of latex can lead to breakage.

Other condoms' innovations are for practicality or efficacy rather than fun. Since inside-out condoms are impossible to roll, some condoms come with applicators or are packaged in such a way that they always emerge right-side up. Another alternative is the spray-on condom, a canister that fits over the penis and coats it evenly with a mist of latex. The benefit is twofold -- the novelty of a spray-on condom might encourage use, and the custom-sprayed condom will fit the user perfectly. However, the spray-on condom isn't yet available in most of the world [source: Time].

Anti-rape condoms use plastic barbs or hooks along the inside of a sheath in an attempt to deter rape. A prototype of one such condom, designed to be worn in a woman's vagina, was launched in South Africa in 2005 [source: Rapex].

One condom isn't for human use at all. In parts of Africa, a tied-on device called an olor acts as a contraceptive for goats. The olor hangs from beneath the abdomen of a male goat, blocking his access to a female goat's vagina during mating. This barrier method helps control goat populations during drought, potentially saving herds from starvation.

This isn't the only inventive use of a contraceptive. Because of condoms' ability to block fluids, people have used them to protect everything from microphones in sports stadiums to gun barrels in combat. But their off-label uses have a nefarious side as well -- people have used them to smuggle drugs in the stomachs of human couriers. Just like when they're used as directed, these condoms are acting as barriers, blocking their cargo from stomach acids, and vice versa.