Ed. Note: The CSPH plans to start Sunday Sex School as a regular feature starting after the new year, but sometimes things pop up that need to be addressed, so here is a sneak peak of what it will be like.
Part of the mission of the Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health is to challenge misinformation. Lately in the sexual and reproductive health field, there has been a growing outcry against the recent use of nitrosamine (a probable carcinogen) levels in condoms as a marketing tactic. Sustain Condoms and The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics are heavily pushing a petition for regulation of nitrosamine by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Between the petition, a series of interviews by the founders of Sustain, and a study titled “Making a Good Thing Even Better: Removing NITROSAMINES from CONDOMS,” [emphasis theirs] many in the field are concerned that the message being received by the public is, “Condoms cause cancer.”
Where did this information come from?
In September 2014, the Reproductive Health Technologies Project in collaboration with the Center for Environmental Health. In the study, they report the levels of nitrosamine present in 24 different types of condoms, spread across several brands. The report states that selection criteria included units sold, in-store availability, and input from issue and industry experts.
It is important to note at this point that there is one condom that was put into the study in its prototypical form from Sustain Condoms, a new entry to the field of prophylactics founded by Jeffery Hollander (of Seventh Generation products) and his daughter, Meika. As we find out in the acknowledgement section of the study:
The report does not disclose which other issue and industry experts it received input from.
What are Nitrosamines?
Nitrosamines, specifically in latex, are a byproduct of chemical processes used to make latex more elastic. Nitrosamines can also form when nitrates turn to nitrites and meet up with amines during the digestive process.
Nitrosamines are found in a lot of items: rubber products (including condoms, baby pacifiers, and latex gloves), meats, cheese, drinking water, beer, dehydrated dairy products, grains, eggs, tobacco smoke…well, it’s in a lot of things we encounter regularly. Further, the body can take nitrates from things like broccoli (which is naturally high in both nitrates and nitrites) and turn it into nitrosamine.
Nitrosamines, specifically the subcompounds of NDEA (N-nitrosodiethylamine), NDMA (N-nitrosodimethylamine), and NDBA (N-nitrosodibutylamine), are classified by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the World Health Organization (WHO) as a probable human carcinogen and by the European Union as presumed to have carcinogenic potential for humans; largely based on animal evidence.
What do condoms have to do with Hamsters?
In the conversation around Nitrosamine levels in condoms, one study is cited the most. The first, a 2001 study where nitrosamine as directly applied to the skin and mucosal tissue (e.g. the walls of the nose and vagina) of Syrian Hamsters. The hamsters developed tumors in the liver and digestive track after the application of 1 gram of nitrosamine. For reference the estimated lifetime absorption of nitrosamine from condoms is .9 micrograms (ug)—also known as .0000009 grams. And people are a lot bigger than hamsters.
As mentioned above, there are nitrosamines everywhere. The average person consumes ~500ug of nitrosamine from food alone every day. More importantly, there is neither a causal or correlative link between reproductive cancers and nitrosamine, a point which is stated clearly in all of the reports, even the one funded by Sustain.
The bottom line: Condoms will not give you cancer.
But they will help protect you from unintended pregnancy and STIs. So wrap up and keep an eye out for Lesson 2.