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Condoms.

Overview

The jimmy hat, wrapper, rubber, wetsuit, willie warmer, or condom, as it's more prosaically known, has aided many coital couples throughout history. In ancient China, men applied oiled silk paper. The Japanese turned to tortoiseshell sheaths. Europeans commonly used fish bladders or lamb intestines, washed, smoked, and steeped in lye. Although the oldest archaeological evidence of condom use dates to the seventeenth century--discarded remains discovered in a castle latrine outside Birmingham, England--Greek mythology contains the earliest condom reference. King Minos of Crete, cursed with semen containing poisonous snakes, scorpions, and woodlice, could not mate without causing injury. In order to eject the poisons, Minos fornicated with a lady of his kingdom who inserted a female condom made from a goat's bladder.

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Condoms are now available in a wide assortment of sizes, colors, and flavors. An estimated 15 billion individual packets are produced each year. Widely considered a relatively effective and affordable device for birth control and controlling sexually transmitted infections, condoms are increasingly in demand as young populations across the developing world reach sexual maturity. The United Nations expects 18 billion condoms will be needed in 2015 for low-and middle-income countries alone.

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Closing the Loop

Some condom producers are beginning to target ''green'' markets. For condom users in search of a biodegradable option, traditional lambskin varieties are still widely available, though infections are more likely given bacteria's ability to penetrate lambskin pores. For those looking for organic protection, Brazil's first national condom factory, opened in 2008, sources latex directly from rubber trees of the Chico Mendes Extractive Reserve in Acre.

Condoms are also being used to promote greater awareness about the connections between sex, population growth, and environmental degradation. The Tucson, Arizona-based Center for Biological Diversity distributed 100,000 free condoms for Valentine's Day this year. Called Endangered Species Condoms, the packaging explains that overpopulation threatens to kill off tens of thousands of plants and animals. Decorating the boxes is artwork depicting threatened wildlife and slogans such as "Wrap with care, save the polar bear" or "Cover your tweedle, save the burying beetle."

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Ben Block

Production and Impact

Asian rubber tree plantations have supplied the vast majority of the world's rubber since the 1870s, and Asian manufacturers now produce nearly 85 percent of the world's condoms. At the factory, the rubber is vulcanized to create a more durable product. Condom manufacturers generally use mechanical systems that dip glass molds into chemical mixtures often containing gasoline or benzene.

Manufacturers commonly source their rubber locally but from plantations that rely heavily on chemical pesticides and herbicides. Condoms typically include ingredients that allow added flexibility and tear resistance. As a result, decomposition requires several years, so cast-away condoms contribute to waste-control problems, filling landfills or clogging water-ways. During the Ocean Conservancy-organized International Coastal Cleanup program in September 2009, volunteers removed more than 10 million pieces of trash from shorelines worldwide, including 26,617 condoms.

On the other hand, condoms offer significant social and environmental benefits. If worn correctly, latex condoms are, on average, 90 percent effective in preventing the trans mission of sexually transmitted infections such as HIV. In Thailand, after the "Condom King' began providing condoms to sex workers, the rate of HIV infections decreased by nearly 90 percent; in Uganda, the ABC approach (abstain, be faithful, use condoms) helped reduce HIV prevalence from 15 percent to 6 percent of adults.

Worn correctly, latex condoms are also about 98 percent effective in preventing unwanted pregnancies. When couples use contraception such as condoms, delaying child birth, or reducing the number of children they would otherwise have, population growth rates decline and women have greater opportunities for education and employment. Slower population growth can help communities manage the costs of providing health, clean water, sanitation, and social services. In Industrialized and developing countries alike, slower population growth can mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and Improve social resilience to climate change as well.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:LIFE-CYCLE STUDIES; social and environmental impact of condom use, production and disposal
Publication:World Watch
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2010
Words:654
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