Could you spot a fake iPhone or a counterfeit watch? How about a fake condom? A growing number of counterfeit condoms are being smuggled into the UK. Little did you know, Which? used to test condoms…
The government’s health regulator has warned that millions of fake condoms have been imported into the country over the last 18 months. For example, a haul of counterfeit condoms worth around £1.5m were seized in Heathrow Airport last year.
And it’s a risky business. Counterfeit condoms are often produced in unhygienic environments and could contain harmful filler substances. Tests carried out on many of the fakes also found that they have a high burst rate, with the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MRHA) saying bogus condoms can’t be relied upon to protect against unwanted pregnancies and STIs.
Which? condom tests in the 60s and 70s
Which brings me to our Which? tests of old. We first tested condoms in 1963, where we found a large number of failures – we concluded that ‘no brand… could possibly be a certain way of preventing conception’. Things were a lot better by 1966, with our 1974 tests showing further improvement.
Our 1974 report begins with the many names for condoms, ‘including French letter, sheath, rubber, protective, prophylactic, Freddy and preventative.’ (I’m not sure when Freddy became Johnny, but that’s by the by.) Even in 1974 condoms were the most widely used contraception, with well over one hundred million sold in Britain each year.
Costing between 2p and 8p per condom, most were latex rubber, apart from one on test that was made from animal gut. And not all were in sealed in foil – some ‘dry’ brands were in paper envelopes or even loose in boxes.
We tested for holes by filling the condoms with half a pint of water, hanging them for three minutes and then inspecting for any signs of leakage from tiny holes ‘too small to see normally, but small enough for sperms to swim through’. We also tested their strength by filling them with five pints of water, and their size (at least ‘seven inches long and two inches wide’).
What about cheap condoms?
So, what were the results of our 1974 test? Only one brand failed, with 11% of Waltons Cupid condoms having holes. Only a few condoms failed our strength test and all condoms passed our size test. We concluded that ‘nothing is gained in effectiveness by buying expensive brands – you may as well buy the cheapest’.
You may not want to take that advice now, as cheap condoms sold in corner shops, newsagents and market stalls are most likely to be fake according to the MRHA. They can often look very close to the major brands as well. Therefore, lead MRHA investigator Danny Lee-Frost advises that ‘it’s vital that people buy condoms from well-known reputable retailers and pharmacies’ (or from a GP or sexual health clinic). So, would you be able to spot an impostor from the real deal?