Your Map to the Condom Aisle
Heather Corinna replies:My boyfriend and I have sex often, and when we do we use a condom as often as possible. But when we go to get condoms there are so many to choose from! There are ribbed ones, spermicidal, ones that are specified for "her" pleasure and vice versa, ultra thin..and more. What is the difference in all of these? Do any of them really give more pleasure or feel any better than a plain lubricated condom?
There sure are a lot of choices in condom styles now, so it's understandable that the array can leave folks mighty confused!
Here are some of the most common "styles" of condoms out and about these days, and what the what is with each of them:
- Thinner condoms: Really, most condoms these days are far thinner than they used to be (so if your parents ever have said that condoms suck, it's likely because they haven't used the newer kinds to know that condoms have changed a lot lately), but you'll see condoms that are listed as being thinner than others. The thinner the condom, the more likely the wearer and his partner both are to feel more body heat, more of the texture of the other person's genitals, and the greater sensation will often be. Since thinner condoms produce less friction, they're no less effective than the thicker ones -- and may even be more effective -- but some partners WANT more friction, so those partners may prefer condoms which aren't so thin.
If you and/or your partner are feeling like you're "not feeling anything," with condoms on, your best bet is to first make sure you're using one of the thinner brands. If you and/or your partner is feeling like MORE friction is better, then the thinner condoms may not be the best choice.
Some brands of thinner condoms are Kimono brand condoms, Durex Ultimate Feeling, Love or Extra Sensitive, Trojan Ultra Thin, Lifestyles Sheer Pleasure, Crown and Beyond Seven.
- Textured condoms (ribbed, dotted, studded, pouched, contoured etc.): These are condoms with some sort of texture, like ribs or dots or studs, or sometimes, with specially designed pouches or shapes with the aim of creating greater sensation.
Plenty of people do enjoy these condoms, and do find it increases some aspects of sensation for them, but it should be noted that for women, since most of our sensory nerve endings are just in the first inch or two of our vaginas -- and the most sensitive part of our vulva is our internal and external clitoris, not our vaginas at all -- if you don't feel any difference yourself, it's likely because most of the condom is inside a place on your body where you just don't feel specific sensations. So, more often than not, it's the male wearers who will feel more difference with these condoms. Overall, if you're not feeling as much sensation with intercourse as you'd like, it's not about the condom, but about your and yours needing to add other sexual activities to the intercourse so that your most sensitive bits are really getting airtime, something vaginal intercourse all by itself more often than not does not provide.
Textured condoms are a good pick, too, if more friction is desired, rather than less. If you like extra sensation around your g-spot, a textured condom may provide a bit more of that. If your partner (or you, if you're the male wearer), likes more sensation around the head of the penis, one of the countoured or pouched condoms may be good for you.
Some brands of textured condoms are the Inspiral, Pleasure Plus, Trojan Intense Ribbed, Her Pleasure or Twisted Pleasure, Lifestyles Dual Pleasure, Kimono Maxx or Type E, Durex Pleasuremax or High Sensation, Crown Studded, Birds N'Bees, Profil or Studded One.
- Smaller or larger condoms: Condoms listed as smaller (which to cater to delicate sensibilities, they are more often called something like "snugger") or larger (which to cater to a prevalent male desire to think of the penis in Godzilla-like proportions are often called things like XXL, Maximus, Super or Mr. Uber-Ginormous -- okay, so I made that last one up) are basically what they sound like. For most, though, it's only the base of the condom -- that bottom ring -- which is smaller or larger. Sizing in this way isn't about length -- the latex even on a standard condom will generally cover your average forearm, let alone any penis -- but about width.
For men with less wide penises, standard condoms may slip off, so they need a smaller ring. For men with wider penises, the ring of a standard condom may pinch painfully, so they need a larger ring. So, if you ever have a partner with whom condoms either slip off or slide up a lot, or one who just looks like he's in agony when he's got a condom on, having condoms of varying sizes can be helpful. But for the most part, most standard condoms really will fit most men.
Some brands of smaller-ringed condoms are Beyond Seven, Lifestyles Snugger, Mamba and Crown. Examples of some larger-ringed condoms are Trojan Magnum, Durex XXL or Avanti, Lifestyles King Size XL, Kimono MicroThin Large and Vivid Large.
- Nonlatex condoms: Some people are allergic or sensitive to latex, and others just prefer not to use latex. For those, there are options. One kind of nonlatex condom is made from animal product membranes (namely, lamb intestine), and those aren't advised, not just because of the yuck-factor, but because they do not prevent the transmission of disease and infection. Polyurethane condoms are a non-latex option which DO also prevent the spread of disease. There's also a new material for nonlatex condoms called polyisoprene which, like polyurethane, helps prevent pregnancy as well as STIs. Too, some people prefer nonlatex condoms because they tend to conduct heat better than latex does.
If you and/or your partner are latex sensitive or allergic, you'll want to use nonlatex condoms. You or he may also prefer them if you like the condom to move around a bit more on the shaft of the penis, and/ir you want to feel more body heat.
Some brands of nonlatex (polyurethane) condoms are Durex Avanti and Trojan Supra, and the new polyisoprene Lifestyles SKYN condoms (which are about half the cost of other nonlatex condoms, so a big yay on that!).
- The female condom: The female condom -- once called the Reality condom, and now called the FC -- is also made from polyurethane. They've had a recent redesign, and the new material they're made from is really nice. Female condoms are worn by women, and have a ring at each end, so they look different than male condoms. They're held in place by one ring that sits in the back of the vagina, and the male partner inserts his penis -- it will usually need to be guided in carefully, not haphazardly -- in the other ring during use. To remove the FC condom after use, you twist that outer ring first, then gently pull the condom out of the vagina. Besides allowing women to be in charge of condom use, one other benefit of the FC condom is that it can be inserted as long as 8 hours before intercourse, so some couples like the extra spontaneity these can provide. For male partners who have any issues with the ring sizes of male condoms, or feel male condoms feel too tight, the FC can also be a good choice, since it sits more loosely on the penis. They are more expensive than male condoms, and do have a slightly higher failure rate than male condoms do.
If you prefer nonlatex condoms, the FC may be a good choice for you. Same goes if you want to be able to put the condom in well before intercourse, if your male partner wants a looser feel with the condom, or if the female wearer wants to be more in charge with condoms.
- Vegan condoms: Most condoms contain a milk ingredient, casein, believe it or not, so strict vegans -- or just folks who prefer not to use animal products -- want condoms without that ingredient, and will also often also want a condom that was not in any way tested on animals.
Some brands of vegan, cruelty-free condoms are Sustain and Glyde condoms.
- "Warming" or "numbing" condoms: These are condoms with an agent added to produce a feeling either of warmth or which aim to try and extend erections. With the numbing/desensitizing types, while they do extend erection for some men, they also do result in both the penis AND the vagina feeling "numbed," which is a pretty silly thing to do during an activity when you want to feel more, not less. That aside, the only thing to look out for with these is if you find either of those types of additives incline you towards infection or just don't feel very good.
Some brands of warming condoms are Durex Pleasuremax warming, Lifestyles Warming Pleasure, Trojan Warm sensations or Rough Rider Warming Pleasure. Some common "numbing" condoms are Durex Peformax or Trojan Extended Pleasure.
You'll know if a condom is lubed or unlubed because it will say so on the package.
Also, do the spermicidal condoms have a greater risk of giving the girl a UTI? I have heard that before and I would like to know if it is true because I have gotten a UTI before after using a condom that has spermicide.
You'll know when a condom is spermicidally-lubricated because it will say so on the box.
If you do not find spermicides to be irritating to you, and if you just have no way to get emergency contraception and pregnancy prevention is key, that even that little extra help spermicidal lube provides may be of use to you.
• Consumer Reports 2009 lists the results of their tests and reveals seven perfect condoms they found.
If you're interested in condoms that have been my personal favorites or those of my partners, all the Kimono styles, Durex Love and the Avantis, Beyond Seven and Glyde vegan condoms have tended to be the choice picks in my bedroom.
As I've mentioned here, condoms are really only half of the story. You'll also always want to have a good, latex-safe lube to use -- a drop or two inside the condom for your partner before he puts it on, plenty on the outside to make things feel good for you, and to keep condoms from breaking, and then more whenever you need it. My personal favorite lubricants these days are Liquid Silk, Pink and Astroglide, but other reputable lubes out and about are Sliquid, the KY Liquids, Wet, Eros Bodyglide, Emerita, O'My and Hydrasmooth.
Remember that where you buy condoms does matter: getting them from gas stations or vending machines is often a bad idea because condoms in those places both tend to hang around there a long time, and often the conditions they're kept in can degrade them. Better places to get condoms are through pharmacies or drugstores, large chain stores, sex supply stores, online vendors of condoms and safer sex supplies, or through your local sexual health clinic. Just always be sure and check the expiration date on your box or singles when you get them: you'll only want to use condoms, to be safe, that are at least six months away from expiring.
Just one thing that caught my eye in your question? You said you used condoms as "often as possible." Does that mean EVERY time?
Because every time is when it is possible, and if condoms are your only birth control method, and/or if you both haven't been monogamous and practicing safer sex (including testing) for at least six months, then EVERY time is when you need to be using those condoms, okay?
It's always a fine idea to get a decent array of condoms to try when you're first starting to use them, so when you stock up that first time, keep extra condoms around thereafter so that there really won't ever be a time when a condom is not there for your use. In trying a few different kinds, most will be workable, even if you or yours wind up strongly preferring one kind -- but those second-choice extras are great to keep handy. And if and when those times do still happen, those are the times to just do another sexual activity -- like manual sex or mutual masturbation -- where a condom really isn't required for either pregnancy prevention or STI transmission.
And just in case...
- Colored condoms: This is just what it sounds like: condoms in colors. They don't change how anything feels, or cause any change in effectiveness. But if you and a partner appreciate a bright green, blue or red penis (maybe you're just feeling festive?), then these are for you! For those who really want a laugh during condom use -- or are concerned they'll lose a penis in the dark -- there are even glow-in-the-dark condoms.
- Flavored condoms:Condoms marked as flavored have a coating to make them taste like something. These should only be used, however, for protection during male-receptive oral sex (AKA, blow jobs), as the sugars in those flavors can incline women (or men, when used anally) towards yeast infections.
- Lubricated or unlubricated condoms: Some condoms will be marked as lubed, and others as unlubed. Really, though, it makes no difference, since to use a condom properly, you'll always want to be using extra lube from a bottle. Not only is using extra lube important to keep condoms from breaking, the amount of lube on a lubricated condom often isn't enough to keep condoms feeling comfortable for both partners. Adding more lube to an already-lubricated condom is fine, but if you have a strong preference for only the lube you use from a bottle, then you might prefer an unlubricated condom.
- Spermicidally lubricated condoms: These are condoms which have a small application of spermicidal lubricant on the condom. Really, even if these condoms did break, we'd still advise emergency contraception for someone who did not want to become pregnant: there just really isn't enough spermicide on them to make a huge difference. But too, if you're using condoms correctly, they're very unlikely to break, and unless they break, that spermicide is useless.
Spermicides have been shown to increase the risk of some sexually transmitted infections -- because they irritate the genitals, making them more susceptible to infection -- so usually, we'll advise people to ditch these, and just use condoms without spermicide correctly -- including the use of extra lubricant. That may also include infections like UTIs which aren't technically sexually transmitted, but which are often due to sex. Even without any extra STI risks, we never want to add agents which might make our genitals feel raw or irritated when we don't have to. If you ever have a condom break on you, you can get and use emergency contraception, which is much more effective in preventing pregnancy than a drop or two of spermicide.