ASK THE THERAPIST
by William A. Henkin, Ph.D.
Copyright © 1995 by William A. Henkin
<Q> What do you know about the Avanti condom?
<A> The Avanti, which has been sold west of the Rocky Mountains since late last year and is just now beginning to be sold in the eastern part of the country, is made of polyurethane. This is the feature that chiefly distinguishes it from "skins," which are made from sheep intestine, and from latex (rubber) condoms, both of which have been in general use since the 1930s. Since polyurethane is reportedly twice as strong as latex, Avanti condoms are much thinner than their latex counterparts. Partly for this reason, and partly because polyurethane conducts heat better than rubber, Avanti users report that they feel more sensation with the new condom than they do with latex condoms. In addition, polyurethane condoms provide a viable alternative for the apparently growing number of people who show allergic reactions to latex ranging from mild itching and rashes to the same sort of anaphylactic shock some people experience in response to bee stings, which can be fatal.
Early tests indicated that the Avanti condoms were no more liable to slip, or to tear, break, or otherwise be damaged in normal use than latex condoms, and that polyurethane was fully as effective a barrier as latex to the viruses that cause most sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), including HIV. Moreover, since polyurethane does not disintegrate when it comes into contact with oil, as latex does, the Avanti condom, like the Reality, the so-called "female condom" released last year, can be used with water- or oil-based lubricants, a feature that pleases people who don't like having to "refresh" the moisture of some water-based lubes that dry out and become tacky during use, and also delights fisters who find water-based lubes inadequate to their needs.
The Avanti condom is relatively expensive as condoms go, priced at about $4 - $5 for a package of three just about the cost of skins. Information about storing and protecting the condoms is printed on the inside of every Avanti package, along with clear, detailed, accurate instructions for putting on, using, and removing condoms for maximum pleasure and safety. Even a cynical friend of mine who believes this extraordinarily intelligent packaging demonstrates nothing more than a wish for a large share of the condom market acknowledges that it is an important piece of safety education and has the potential to help many people who do or should use condoms to use them wisely and regularly.
Unfortunately, the August issue of Consumer Reports throws some of the Avanti's value into question. According to CU, recent research funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHHD) has found polyurethane condoms breaking or tearing 3 to 5 times more often than latex condoms. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is still letting the manufacturer, Schmidt Laboratories, sell the Avanti, but has asked NICHHD and Schmidt for additional tests on the product. Until the results of those tests are reported, probably in the coming winter, the FDA recommends the Avanti's use only for people who cannot tolerate latex.
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