How long do condoms last?

Packaged condoms have a shelf life of about two years. Stored properly, they can last up to five years. To make sure you're getting a "fresh" one, check the manufacturing date before buying one. Watch your fingernails as you open the packet gently; they might tear the condom even before you use it. If the condom shows any signs of deterioration, discard it. Look out for sticky, discolored or dried condoms. Above all, never re-use them.

If you're saving one for a rainy day, store it in a cool, dark, dry place. Don't expose the condom to heat or light, Also protect it from air pollution.

"As with medicines, condoms may deteriorate more rapidly under exposure to high heat and humidity. Even 10 hours of exposure to ultraviolet radiation, present in sunlight and in fluorescent lights, can begin to destroy the condom. One very common source of condom deterioration is storage, not just in warehouses and drugstores but on the user: men often carry condoms in their back pocket wallets. This is the worst place to keep a condom because of the heat and humidity," revealed Dr. Michael Lim Tan, executive director of the Health Action Information Network in Health Alert.

Some condoms are lubricated to lessen the chances of breakage and feel more comfortable. Those who use them prefer to add more lubrication which is a good idea. When doing so, avoid oil-based lubricants such as mineral oil, baby oil, vegetable oil, petroleum jelly, cold cream and hand lotions containing these oils. They can weaken and destroy latex condoms.

Water-based lubricants like K-Y Jelly should be used instead. Don't confuse this with water-soluble products which can also harm latex condoms. To be sure, read the label carefully.

Like condoms, the intrauterine device (IUD) has been around for thousands of years. The Greek physician Hippocrates reportedly used one made of a hollow lead tube which contained certain medications. Arab nomads inserted small stones into the uteri of camels prior to a long journey in the desert. This prevented the animals from becoming pregnant.

It was not until the late 19th century, however, that lUDs were considered as a means of birth control. The early devices were made of wood, glass, ivory, silver, gold and ebony. They may have worked but they also led to serious complications. This prompted the medical profession to abandon their use.

In the 1930s, a German physician named Dr. Ernest Grafenberg developed an IUD made of silkworm and silver. Although it was better than the other devices, Grafenberg's IUD didn't work because of flaws in design and in the insertion technique. A Japanese doctor named Ota came up with another IUD in 1934 but it didn't resolve the previous problems associated with the device.

"The medical profession, aware of the problems of previous crude lUDs, did not accept the first generation of lUDs of Grafenberg and Ota. Grafenberg subsequently abandoned his ideas and the Ota (device) was banned by the Japanese government in 1936. Research in the late 1950s and early 1960s by physicians such as Margulies and Lippes finally encouraged reexamination of lUDs," according to Dr. Niels Lauersen, a diplomate of the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Steven Whitney in "It's Your Body: A Woman's Guide to Gynecology." (Next: How IUDs work.)

Sharon Bell is an avid health and fitness enthusiast and published author. Many of her insightful articles can be found at the premier online news magazine

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