The seal provides an important mark of distinction for manufacturers and allows consumers to orientate themselves.
SNV Story No. 4: Association for the Condom Quality Seal
Condoms with the «OK» Quality Seal satisfy the international standard for condoms
The coronavirus pandemic has showed us that new developments are sometimes initiated by outside forces and subsequently cannot be ignored any longer. Digitalization, for example, made inroads much more quickly than expected under the extraordinary circumstances of the pandemic. Concerns about condom quality, which can also be traced back to a virus pandemic, have similar historical roots. We invite you to take a brief look back in time with Dr Johannes Gauglhofer, who is responsible for processing quality tests at the Association for the Condom Quality Seal.
Dr Johannes Gauglhofer is a pioneer in the field of condom quality assurance. «Adherents of the sexual revolution in the 1970s experimented with their sexuality, but they didn’t talk about good or bad condoms. Really nobody talked about it, neither in Switzerland nor elsewhere. Men avoided it at all costs, and only a small number of women insisted on it as a method of contraception, provided they could muster up the courage», says Dr Gauglhofer.
Finding the weak spot
At the end of the 1970s, a Danish businessman wanted to market condoms in Switzerland. Since condoms had to undergo material inspection in his native country, he contacted Empa, the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology, in St. Gallen. Back then, Dr Gauglhofer was head of the department for leather and shoes and began exploring the field, which was hitherto unknown in Switzerland. He discovered the Swedish method for testing condoms, which were inflated via a machine and then systematically burst.
«The so-called ‘burst test’ locates the weakest point of the condom, which is the point where the material is too thin or where a hole negates its protective function», says Dr Gauglhofer. A corresponding machine was then developed, and testers in Switzerland established test requirements. «Holding a stopwatch, we determined the so-called burst volume of a condom when we felt the shock of it bursting. Despite the adventurous test methods being used in Switzerland, the revelation of the catastrophic quality of condoms didn’t seem to bother anybody. Back then, condoms weren’t exactly flying off the shelves», Dr Gauglhofer says with a grin.
The breakthrough of Polo Hofer and «Dr Gummi Song»
The situation changed abruptly in the 1980s. With the emergence of Aids, the relevance of tearproof condoms for preventing sexually transmitted diseases was suddenly acknowledged. A condom with a hole in it or, even worse, a condom that burst was a death sentence. Federal awareness campaigns, which used the «Gummi Song», the most popular condom song of all time, as well as other means, contributed to making condoms acceptable to the masses.
The Foundation for Consumer Protection charged Empa with testing condoms, where the condom test device was really put into action. Once again, the results were unsatisfactory. Only two suppliers satisfied the requirements. However, what was different about the initial series of tests was the outrage over the results. The Federal Office of Public Health also weighed in. Legal requirements, which were classified as illegal trade barriers against imports, were also debated.
At the same time, the Association for the Condom Quality Seal was established. The Association awards the «OK» Quality Seal, which is still known throughout Switzerland, only to products that pass laboratory tests and satisfy strict requirements.
«OK» condoms are the safest
While today a harmonized international standard for condoms exists (SN EN ISO 4074:2016 - Natural rubber latex male condoms - Requirements and test methods ), the Association for the Condom Quality Seal is still very active with its «OK» Quality Seal and continues to impose strict requirements on manufacturers when it comes to burst testing. «There is no such thing as total safety», says Dr Gauglhofer assuredly, «however, condoms with the ‘OK’ seal are the safest on the market». The seal provides an important mark of distinction for manufacturers and builds consumer trust. The condoms are tested in four laboratories in different countries. Manufacturers know that they cannot conquer the Swiss market without the «OK» seal. However, it is not smooth sailing for manufacturers who were already awarded the seal. The corresponding products must undergo regular tests in which each unit of production is tested in the laboratory. Fortunately, today’s condoms have nothing in common with those from long ago.
«OK» Quality Seal
The Association for the Condom Quality Seal
The Association for the Condom Quality Seal was founded in 1989 to ensure the quality of condoms. The association awards the «OK» Quality Seal, which gives tested condoms a mark of distinction. Condoms with the «OK» Quality Seal satisfy the international standard for condoms (SN EN ISO 4074:2016), which is a prerequisite for manufacturers who apply for the «OK» Quality Seal and allows them to import their condoms to Switzerland.
Furthermore, they must satisfy the stricter requirements imposed by the Association for the Condom Quality Seal. Each individual unit of production is tested by an independent laboratory before it is approved for sale. The condoms must also pass a stricter burst test. The Association monitors market adherence to the regulations through frequent random samples and tests.
Today, the Association for the Condom Quality Seal includes the following members:
Swiss AIDS Federation, Consumers’ Federation of French-speaking Switzerland and SEXUAL HEALTH Switzerland.
Milestones for condom quality control
- 1977: Initial material tests at Empa (Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology)
- 1985: Inquires by consumer organizations concerning Aids
- 1986: The Foundation for Consumer Protection publishes a comparative study
- 1989: The Swiss standard for rubber condoms is enacted. Implementation by companies is voluntary
- 1989: Founding of the Association for the Condom Quality Seal by consumer organizations, the Swiss AIDS Federation and the Federal Office of Public Health
- 1990: Creation of the «OK» Quality Seal for condoms
- 1995: Swiss ordinance on condoms
- 1996: European standard EN 600 («Natural rubber latex male condoms»)
- 1996: The European standard is adopted by Switzerland and becomes legally enforceable via the Swiss Ordinance on Medical Devices
- 2009: 20th anniversary of the Association for the Condom Quality Seal. Approximately 90% of the estimated 30 million condoms sold annually in Switzerland bear the «OK» Quality Seal
- 2016: The harmonized standard SN EN ISO 4074 replaces EN 600, thus also becoming legally enforceable in Switzerland via the Ordinance on Medical Devices