Sexual and reproductive health


Male and female latex condoms safety and efficacy


Image of female and male condoms
UNAIDS/P. Virot - Photoshare/D. Alexander

Condoms, when used correctly and consistently, are safe and highly effective in preventing unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.

Mercaptobenzothiazole and condoms

None of the major manufacturers of male and female latex condoms use mercaptobenzothiazole (MBT or ZMBT), a chemical material which has recently been identified as a potential carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). The 2010 WHO and UNFPA Male Latex Condom Specification, Prequalification and Guidelines for Procurement states the manufacturing requirements for male condoms, which are consistent with ISO testing standards. It states that good quality natural rubber latex should be the main material. The 2012 WHO and UNFPA Female Condom Specification, Prequalification, and Guidelines for Procurement state similar requirements for female condoms. Female condoms are made of either polyurethane, natural rubber or synthetic rubber, all of which do not use MBT.

Condoms are made of thin, latex rubber, and the exposure time through skin contact is generally short. Should MBT or ZMBT be used in condoms, the duration of exposure during use is very short and therefore any risk would be low.

WHO response

WHO promotes family planning by producing evidence-based guidelines on the safety and effectiveness of contraceptive methods and their provision, developing quality standards for their manufacture, providing pre-qualification of approved contraceptive commodities, and helping countries introduce these methods.

Acknowledgement: William Potter, Stapleford Scientific Services Ltd

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