/ Health, Shopping

Could you spot a fake condom?

Condom in back pocket

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.

Which? 1974 condom test brandsAll of the major brands were put to the test (pictured), including the most popular Durex. Which? bought 500 samples of each condom ‘from as many different shops as possible’.

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?


Be careful about CE marking on anything. Like kite marking, easy to forge so not a guarantee of compliance. CE marking was (and probably still is) applied by the manufacturer as a statement that the product complied with Standards and can be a self-assessment. It did not (and may still not) require the product to have passed independent testing to an EU standard by a recognised test house.

I could not favour enforced population control. Helping families to keep their progeny to the number they want – by education, provision of advice and services – is a different matter. People should make their own decisions.

Education and advice would be a very good start.

When it comes to contraceptives, I think it’s wise to never take chances. I’ll only buy from supermarkets or pharmacies and frankly, if I saw an offer that seemed too good to be true, I’d be tempted to avoid it.

Peter Gitau says:
25 April 2013

If you have cft condoms in the UK, I can’t start to imagine how hard we will be hit – if not yet already in East Africa. How can I get in touch with the anti counterfeit team of the DUREX manufacurer?

Wayne Kerr says:
19 December 2013

Wrapping your testicles in tinfoil IS an effective means of contraception provided they’re removed from the body first…

That’s b*ll*x patrick – we should not be encouraging people to practice this at home. I would not be amused. Anyway, it’s aluminium foil, not tin foil. :mrgreen:

It’s the colour of two veg – well, one anyway. One consolation is you could be a winner on “The Voice”.

I’m intrigued by the reference to a “fake watch” in this context (see intro). Is the implication that the timing issue could also be compromised by these unscrupulous fakers? Maybe the date mechanism is defective? We should be told.

I remember reading the 1963 and some of the later Which? reports on condoms but they seem to have slipped off my shopping list these days.

Reading this I was not totally surprised as with on-line fulfilment bodies !?!?? the number of sources is infinite. My guess though is the pub and club trade filling their own dispensing machines. Given the costs and dangers to public health I would want urgent action on the matter. This may include banning sales in pubs etc and restricted on-line sales as an urgent response.

One other thing is that this article warning us [has it been published elsewhere in Which?] seems to be well after the event. If Which? adopts the CAWiki approach then this could have been a subject area that would have been updated in 2015.

Incidentally as a subject area it is always of interest as to what to buy and the value and downsides of novelty condoms. In Holland and Belgium you can buy the new technically advanced BlueDiamond which throws an interesting light on EU cooperation and consumer freedom.