Condom Experts to Come Up with New Standards

SEOGWIPO, South Korea -- As the world's top condom experts convene this week to update international standards, one U.S. 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 160 millimeters, with more than half ordering those less than 130 millimeters.

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.

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 that it 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 18 liters of air -- far more than it would ever be expected to contain under normal use.

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.

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.