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Do Lambskin Condoms Protect Against STDs? What You Should Know About Sheepskin Condoms

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.

What Are Lambskin (Sheepskin or Natural Skin) Condoms?

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:

  • Availability: Because of their manufacturing process and availability, lambskin condoms have a high-end image. Trojan, for instance, promotes Trojan NaturaLamb as “luxury condoms,” complete with a black and gold label. (This translates to a higher price, which we’ll address in a moment.)
  • Appearance: Aside from the packaging, lambskin condoms look different from latex and synthetic condoms. The condom material appears more opaque, and these condoms have a rounded end instead of a reservoir tip.
  • Elasticity: Lambskin condoms don’t have the elasticity of latex or synthetics, so they’re already at maximum length, width, and circumference right out of the box. That makes them appear larger, which first-time users might find strange. However,  people who use these condoms note that this distinction helps them fit various sizes.
  • Fit: Wearing a lambskin condom involves some dexterity. Each condom secures with a type of drawstring at the base instead of an elastic ring. (We’ll discuss how to wear these types of condoms properly below.)

Are Lambskin Condoms Better Than Latex Condoms?

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:

  • Natural feel: Studies show that lambskin condoms have a thinner texture and more natural feel, creating a sensation similar to not wearing a condom.
  • Warmth: People who use lambskin condoms also say that they transmit body heat better than latex condoms, enhancing intimacy during intercourse. 
  • Flexibility: These condoms come pre-treated inside and outside with water-based lubricant. For more fun and less friction, partners can use them with all types of lubes, even oil-based lubricants, which can cause latex condoms to break. (That’s why health experts recommend using only water-based lubes with latex.)
  • Biodegradability: If you’re concerned about your carbon footprint as well as avoiding pregnancy, lambskin condoms also are biodegradable. (To be fair, natural rubber latex also is biodegradable, but most latex condoms contain materials in addition to latex.)

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).

Do Lambskin Condoms Protect Against STDs? 

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.

Other Disadvantages of Sheepskin Condoms

While their lack of protection against STIs and STDs is a considerable downside, sheepskin condoms have other drawbacks, such as:

  • Price: Because sheepskin and lambskin condoms comprise such a small portion of the market, they’re more expensive — about three to four times what you’d spend on latex or synthetic condoms. For instance, a three-pack of Trojan NaturaLamb costs about $8.59, roughly the same price as a ten-pack of Trojan Double Ecstacy. 
  • Fit: Lambskin and sheepskin condoms don’t have the elasticity people notice with latex and synthetic condoms. These types of condoms are at their largest out of the package. They have a circumference of 5.51 inches (140 mm). So while that means they fit several sizes, they also might feel too loose for some tastes. 
  • Scent: Lambskin and sheepskin condoms have a different odor from latex and synthetic condoms, likely because of the natural material used in manufacturing them. While some people might not find this off-putting, users say that it is noticeable, regardless of how sensitive you are to different smells.

How to Use Sheepskin Condoms Correctly to Prevent Pregnancies 

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.

Alternatives to Latex Condom That Can Protect You from STDs 

If you or your partner has a latex allergy, here are several latex condom alternatives that can protect you from STDs:

  • Polyurethane condoms: Thinner than latex, these synthetic condoms provide a skin-to-skin feel and heat up more naturally than latex — just like lambskin condoms. However, some people say they break more easily than latex and fit more loosely, so health experts say to use another form of contraception with them, such as birth control pills.
  • Polyisoprene condoms: Polyisoprene is a lab-created form of latex, so it doesn’t contain the plant proteins that trigger most latex allergies. (If you have a severe latex allergy, avoid these anyway.) Users say that the material transmits body heat like lambskin and feels thin and soft. It works well with silicone- and water-based lubricants.
  • Female condoms: Also called an internal condom, the female condom is one that either gender can use by inserting into the vagina or anus. Made of a synthetic rubber called nitrile, internal condoms cover more of the vulva, providing more complete STD protection. 

Get Tested Before You Get Intimate

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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.