The Which report on contraceptives represents a serious and courageous investigation of an industry which, protected by the prejudice and hypocrisy of official attitudes, has developed almost without any kind of public control.
The industry is dominated by one firm—London Rubber Industries. To give just one illustration of this dominance, the eight most widely sold brands of condom—by far the most widely used form of contraceptive method in this country—are all manufactured by this firm; in fact, only one other British manufacturer of condoms was actually identified at all by the investigators although at least 88 brands are on the market.
In the context of the report’s conclusions concerning the advantages and disadvantages of the various methods of contraception, its account of some of London Rubber Industries’ advertising methods takes on a particular significance. The firm advertises and distributes a booklet called Family Planning—a new booklet—Free—facts about new methods. . . . The booklet offers what seems to be disinterested advice (usually stating ‘Issued without charge in the interests of family planning’)—deciding, in the end, that the condom is ‘for good reasons, the most popular contraceptive method’—this sometimes being followed by order forms for such London Rubber Industries products as Durex Gossamer.
Now if one thing emerges quite plainly from the Which investigation it is that the condom is not the safest, nor the cheapest method, nor does it interfere least with intercourse. To start with, no single brand would have passed the present draft British standard, which is aimed at accepting brands with a failure rate of 1 per cent. The two most widely used brands had a failure rate of 9 per cent and 5 per cent respectively, and all brands investigated would have been in danger of seizure by, for instance, the us Food and Drug administration. As for prices, they bear no discoverable relation to quality: e.g. Durex Gossamer at 1s. 3d. each had a 9 per cent failure rate on leakage tests, Arloid Coralex at 1s. 7d. each had 16 per cent failures, while Lloyds Grade B at 3 1/2 d. and Prevax at 4d.–8d. had rates of 7 per cent and 4 per cent respectively. (Even more startling statistics operate for washable sheaths, where prices range from 2s. 6d to £2. 2s. with no discoverable differences in quality or appearance.)
And lastly, of course, the condom interferes considerably with intercourse.