How a Condom Factory Rolls Out Millions of Rubbers a Day

THE SUN IS coming out and your clothes are coming off. It’s time for a spring fling, baby. But are you ready for action? Sales for one of the world’s biggest condom manufacturers, Ansell, heat up with the temperature, whether it’s the company’s Lifestyles line in the US and Australia, KamaSutra in India, Manix in France, or Blowtex in Brazil. To keep up with demand, 5 million condoms slide off factory lines every day—hopefully never to slip off anything else again.

Harvest | Not far from Ansell’s factory in Thailand, workers carve shallow grooves into the bark of rubber trees so the milky latex inside can flow along a metal gutter into a cup below. Each tree produces 20 to 40 grams of the stuff per tapping and can handle extractions every few days for more than 20 years. The latex is spun in a centrifuge to separate out the solids, resulting in a concentrated batch that’s then firmed up with chemical stabilizers.


Dip | Dong-shaped glass molds are double-dipped in a vat of latex (or, for latex-free condoms, a synthetic polyisoprene cocktail). Once the molds cool, a blast of water strips the condoms off. Ansell’s most common mold is for the “straight shaft,” a standard condom with a reservoir tip. But condom molds can be made magnum-size, studded, ridged, or flared for a more ergonomic fit. A rim is added, and the rubber is vulcanized.


Wash & Dry | A rinse cycle removes any excess residue from the condoms. Before they reach the dryer, they’re coated with cornstarch powder so the latex doesn’t stick to itself.


Zap | Each condom, now resting on a metal phallus, is jolted with electricity to ensure it’s hole-free. If the machine detects voltage passing through an opening, the condom is tossed in a reject bin. The rest are sucked up in tubes, rolling the condoms into their familiar coin shape.


Squirt & Wrap | Little tubes douse the condoms with a variety of optional coatings: benzocaine (the same stuff that’s used to numb toothaches), warming lubricant, or flavors like watermelon, chocolate, or margarita (gag). A hot metal press seals the condoms in foil wrappers; another machine stamps on expiration dates. Finally, a packing machine readies boxes for shipping to frisky customers and banana-wielding sex-ed teachers everywhere.


Test Again | Workers pull some rubbers from each batch for random inspection. Each country has different standards that condoms must be able to tolerate. In the US, they need to be sturdy enough to hold at least two basketballs’ worth of air—they can blow up to about 2 1/2 feet long before they burst. They’re filled with water to test for leaks, stretched to the breaking point, poked, prodded, and finally aged for seven days—all to make sure they hold up in your time of need.

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