When talking about the variety of safer sex options out there, especially the various types of condoms, latex condoms and polyisoprene condoms may come to mind. However, there is actually another type of condom that has been around for thousands of years: lambskin condoms.
Chances are, you may not have heard of lambskin condoms in your health class or during any discussions around sexual health and wellness, but they’re some of the O.G. condoms out there! If you’re familiar with them already, great! If not, we will provide you with all the information you need to make you the resident expert among your friends. So sit baaack (we couldn’t resist *wink*), relax and keep on scrolling.
What Exactly Are They?
Let’s start with the name, because it may not be entirely clear exactly just what lambskin condoms are. The first myth to dispel is that lambskin condoms are not actually made from the external skin layer of lambs, they’re actually built from the lamb’s cecum, a pouch at the beginning of the large intestine. Cool, right? This is why some people prefer to call them “natural skin condoms” or “natural membrane condom” (the latter of which is the scientific name).
The second myth to dispel is that condoms made from animal products like this, specifically internal membranes, are a new phenomenon or a fringe science experiment. Believe it or not, condoms designed from animal organs like bladders and intestines have been around for thousands of years and were some of the earliest known barrier methods dating back to the classical world of the ancient Greeks and beyond.
How Popular Are They?
Another reason you may have not heard of lambskin condoms, is because they’ve seen varied popularity over the last century. Firstly, lambskin condoms were a victim of innovation, and fell out of favor with many in the 1920’s with the advent of the latex condom.
Sixty years later, as the HIV/AIDS crisis began to emerge on a national scale, lambskin condoms saw increased demand, following a report from the Surgeon General on safer sex practices as a way to prevent the transmission of the HIV virus. Unfortunately, shortly thereafter, lambskin condoms were determined to be less effective against what they then might’ve called venereal disease or sexually transmitted diseases.
Since then, the popularity of lambskin condoms has remained relatively stagnant. Today, estimates suggest that about 80% of the condoms in the United States are latex condoms, with natural membrane condoms accounting for only 5%.
Why Do People Use Them?
There are a few different reasons why people might prefer to use a lambskin condom.
- Pregnancy Prevention: Because they are a barrier method by nature, lambskin condoms are proven to prevent pregnancy (up to 98% effective when used correctly) similar to other birth control options on the market. For people who are in committed relationships and have tested negative for STIs, this may be a good option to prevent pregnancy. Latex condoms do not protect against STIs, but more on that below.
- Enhanced Sensation: Another benefit that some people describe is how lambskin condoms transmit natural body heat, giving the wearer a more “natural feel.” When you think about the material with which they’re made, this makes sense: the membrane material would feel almost like another layer of skin between you and your partner. Lambskin condoms can also be used with all types of lubricants, including oil-based products, which cannot be used with latex condoms. Lambskin condoms can provide a warming sensation with friction.
- Latex Allergy: And lastly from a more pragmatic perspective, lambskin condoms do offer one (but certainly not the only) safer sex option to people who are allergic to latex (which can be very serious depending on the individual).
Why Don’t More People Use Them?
With all the benefits, it might seem strange that these condoms are not used more frequently or at the very least, more well known! Like any product out there, there are also cons to lambskin condoms, that dissuade some condom users from using them:
- Do No Protect Against Sexually Transmitted Infections: Unfortunately, lambskin condoms provide pregnancy protection only, and were found to be less effective in providing protection from sexually transmitted infections (STIs). This is because the same properties that allow for lambskin condoms to transmit body heat also mean that the material is too porous to block fluid from passing between partners, according to a study done by the CDC.
- High Cost: Because they are less popular than condoms made from different materials, lambskin condoms also tend to be considerably more expensive to both produce and purchase as a consumer. This means they are generally less accessible and available in your local drug stores or other locations that might be convenient for your sexual health needs.
- Drawstring Mechanism: Another drawback of lambskin condoms for some users is that they have a drawstring. If you think of a standard latex condom, you expect for there to be an elastic ring at the base. Instead, lambskin condoms have a drawstring attached to the base of the condom, which can be tightened, tied and secured before sexual activity.
- Slight Odor: One unique feature of lambskin condoms is that they also come with a slight odor upon the opening of their wrapper, and some condom users find this unpleasant. It’s certainly not noxious or dangerous, but enough to be noticeable at first.
- Not Vegan: Because lambskin condoms are made from animal products, they are not vegan.
What Other Options Are There?
You may be thinking to yourself: what if some of the benefits of lambskin condoms sounded great to me? How do I get those? Luckily, you can totally unlock most of these benefits with a variety of other products:
- Polyurethane Condoms: Unlike lambskin condoms, polyurethane condoms are made of a thin plastic material, which actually functions very similarly to latex with one small difference. Some condom users have reported that polyurethane condoms do not offer the same tightness or snugness that one might get with a latex condom. If you find that you aren’t having any goodness of fit issues with polyurethane condoms, they might be your go-to to prevent pregnancy and STI transmission. Because polyurethane is plastic (not latex), they can be used with all lubricants (including oil-based lubes).
- Polyisoprene Condoms: Ok bear with us, we know these names sound very similar but they are actually fundamentally different based on the material they’re made of. Polyisoprene condoms are technically latex, but all the plant proteins that typically cause allergies and irritation are removed. Because it is latex, oil-based lubes cannot be used.
- Female or Internal Condoms: If the options for standard condoms (formerly known more commonly as male condoms) are not appealing, there is the option to use an internal condom. Rather than extend this down the shaft of the penis, this condom contains a flexible nitrile ring (inside a plastic pouch) that can be folded and inserted inside you or your partner’s body. These condoms still provide protection from STI transmission and unintended pregnancy, just as any barrier method would.
Intrigued? ONE® Condoms does not currently make lambskin or non-latex condoms, but there's different brands you can find that do.