If you’re sexually active but allergic to latex, lambskin condoms are an appealing alternative to latex condoms since they provide a natural feel similar to skin-to-skin contact. Manufacturers make these condoms from lambs’ intestinal membranes. Lambskin condoms have been a sexual staple for centuries — as far back as ancient Rome, academics say.
Condoms function as protection in two ways: (1) as a contraceptive (to prevent pregnancy) and (2) as a protection against sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
Natural membrane condoms such as lambskin condoms, also called sheepskin condoms, have about the same effectiveness as latex condoms in preventing pregnancy, research shows. Unfortunately, though, if you’re wondering, “Do lambskin condoms protect against STDs?” the results are not as reassuring.
Let’s look at the advantages and disadvantages of lambskin condoms, how to use them effectively, and some latex-free alternatives for people with latex allergies that might prevent sexually transmitted diseases better than sheepskin.
Lambskin condoms use animal material instead of synthetics like latex, which is why people also call these “natural skin condoms” or “natural membrane condoms.” However, these terms can be misleading. There is no skin in a lambskin or sheepskin condom. Instead, manufacturers use a lamb’s intestinal pouch, called the cecum, to create these condoms.
Lambskin condoms certainly have historical longevity. Historians say that men have used condoms made from the intestines and even bladders of lambs for thousands of years.
After the invention of latex condoms in the 1920s, though, lambskin condoms dropped in popularity. However, they still hold on to a small portion of the condom market. Lambskin condoms comprise about 5% of manufactured condoms. The other top sellers consist of rubber latex (about 80%) or synthetic materials, such as polyurethane (about 15%).
Lambskin condoms have about the same shelf life as other types of condoms, roughly four to five years. You can buy lambskin condoms online or at a drugstore without a prescription. They also have some notable features, such as:
All condoms, including lambskin condoms, are 98% effective in preventing pregnancy with perfect use, statistics show. Granted, nobody uses anything perfectly, especially condoms. However, researchers say that with typical usage—taking into account errors and misuse–lambskin and other condoms are 82% effective as contraceptives.
While this makes lambskin condoms a viable alternative condom for men or women with latex allergies, these condoms also have other benefits. For instance:
If you’re in a committed, monogamous relationship, lambskin condoms seem to have a lot to offer. However, they do have drawbacks, the most notable being their lower level of protection against sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
When used correctly, lambskin condoms are an effective means of preventing pregnancy. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that the size of the pores in these condoms are up to 1,500 nm in diameter, narrow enough to block sperm — the same protective principle as other types of condoms.
While that means lambskin condoms are great as a contraceptive, the pores in these natural membranes are too large to block bacteria such as gonorrhea and the viruses responsible for other STIs. They’re more than ten times the diameter of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and more than 25 times the size of HBV, or the hepatitis B virus.
However, researchers checked more than the pore size to evaluate the effectiveness of lambskin condoms in the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases. In laboratory studies, they found that natural membrane condoms allowed for the sexual transmission of HIV, HBV, and other viruses, such as herpes simplex, the CDC says.
So, what do lambskin condoms protect against? Not STDs.
Aside from pregnancy, lambskin condoms protect against the hives, itching, and rash that many people experience when they have a topical latex allergy. These condoms also enable people with a more severe latex allergy to have sex without worrying about asthma-like symptoms such as wheezing and difficulty breathing, life-threatening anaphylaxis.
While their lack of protection against STIs and STDs is a considerable downside, sheepskin condoms have other drawbacks, such as:
A person wears a sheepskin condom to prevent pregnancy the same way as other condoms: by rolling it on over the sheath of the penis. However, instead of an elastic ring at the base like those that keep latex and synthetic condoms in place, lambskin condoms have a type of drawstring.
As awkward as that sounds, users say it’s similar to tightening a shoelace, and it’s not uncomfortable. The drawstring action also allows for a more adjustable fit if you’re someone whose size makes wearing other condom types challenging.
Beyond a drawstring to cinch it in place, sheepskin or lambskin condoms have the same precautions as other condoms–specifically, to hold on to it while pulling out, health experts say.
By the way, don’t double up wearing them thinking that you’re adding extra protection. Wearing two condoms during sex increases friction between them, making them more likely to break.
If you or your partner has a latex allergy, here are several latex condom alternatives that can protect you from STDs:
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If you have additional questions about scheduling an STD test, or if you’d like to talk confidentially with one of our health care professionals, our staff at Rapid STD Testing is here to serve you. Please call us today at 866-872-1888.