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The origin of the male condom is equal parts entertaining and horrifying. King Minos of Crete, who ruled Knossos in 3000 B.C., was believed to have had “serpents and scorpions” in his semen (which was likely an STI that was untreatable at the time) after countless mistresses died after being intimate with him. Eventually, to protect himself and his partners, goat bladders were introduced as a barrier of protection. This is considered the blueprint for the first ever condom.
Eventually, this idea evolved to include linen sheaths (in Ancient Egypt), sheep bladders and intestines (in Ancient Rome), silk paper sheaths (in early Chinese civilizations) and even tortoise shells (in early Japanese civilizations).
Around 1860, condoms were being made from less obscure materials like rubber. And in the 1920s, they were being made of latex. During this time, condoms were used to prevent sexually transmitted diseases and weren’t popularized as a form of contraception until the 1980s.
These days, 450,000,000 condoms are sold in the United States every year and are 98 percent effective at preventing pregnancy and most STIs when, used perfectly. But because nobody’s perfect, condoms are considered 85 percent effective at pregnancy prevention and best paired with another form of birth control, like a pill or IUD.
To help you find the best condom for your needs, Greatist has assembled a master list of condoms for every toe-curling purpose.
- Condoms are eligible for reimbursement with flexible spending accounts (FSA), health saving accounts (HSA), and health reimbursement accounts (HRA). However, they’re not eligible for reimbursement with dependent care flexible spending accounts and limited care flexible spending accounts.
- Just because condoms have a higher price tag doesn’t mean they’re more effective.
- If you plan ahead and buy from a trusted brand in bulk, you’ll likely save more money than if you run to the drug store and purchase a 3-pack. Generally speaking, the more you buy, the less you pay per condom.
- Condoms have an expiration date, so inspect the box to make sure they’re not past their prime.
How to store condoms
Store condoms in a cool, dry place, safe from wear and tear and excessive heat. While common, it’s not a good idea to store your rubbers in a wallet, where constant rubbing can break them down. The same goes for pockets and your vehicle’s glove compartment.
Trojan BareSkin condoms are the brand’s top seller and are lauded for being 50 percent thinner than their other offerings. They also come with their own lube — but you’ll probably need to reapply. When pairing, opt for water-based lubes as oil-based lubricants can break down the condom’s integrity (and silicone-based toys).
The reviews are near unanimous: Durex Extra Sensitive condoms, which are 20 percent thinner than their standard product, are the best compromise between a condom’s sensation-robbing thickness and durability.
Magnum condoms have a reputation as the condom for larger-than-average penises. But the truth is, they really aren’t much larger than your average condom. So if you find Magnums fit a little snug, the brand offers an even larger product, Magnum XL, which accommodates for more length and girth.
LELO’s condom is the first of its kind, with a re-engineered hexagonal “web” designed to decrease tearing, mold to the penis of the wearer, enhance sensitivity, and minimize slippage. Hex is often referenced as “the future of condoms.”
Get it via Glyde
Glyde is a vegan, cruelty-free, fair trade, and Green America certified brand that uses a plant-based formula, natural rubber, and recycled packaging on their products. Glyde made their first ethical condoms 20 years ago, long before sustainability was trendy and have donated millions of condoms to prevent HIV/AIDS.
Condoms come with all types of different textures, which are hit or miss depending on the customer. Yet Trojan’s Ultra Ribbed Condoms, which have a “deep ribbing” texture, are one of the brand’s best-sellers, topping the list on Amazon with rave reviews.
Get it via MyONE
There are plenty of condoms for men with larger-than-average penises, but not nearly as many for those who are smaller than average. MyONE’s Perfect Fit is a bespoke experience, with a sizing kit that lets you select your best fit from 60 different options.
Unfortunately, you cannot purchase these condoms straight from the drug store, but the added steps required makes for a better fit and overall experience.
Sustain condoms are non-GMO, vegan, fair trade, and made from natural latex. Making many “vagina-friendly” lists, these condoms are free of dyes, nitrosamine, and are made from rubber that’s sourced from a Forest Stewardship Council–certified plantation in southern India, which provides free medical facilities for workers and schools for children.
Get it via Amazon
Anal sex requires a tough condom and lots of lube; Kimono MicroThin condoms delivers on both. The rubbers are coated with water-based lube and they exceed the U.S. and international standards for strength. Note: While these condoms are lubricated, adding extra lube (silicone-based is usually preferred for anal sex) will surely be required. The bum doesn’t self-lubricate like a vagina does!
When using condoms with silicone-based sex toys, avoid silicone-based lubricants and condoms coated with silicone-based lubricants. Royal condoms are tough, triple-tested, and covered in a silky smooth water-based lubricant for longer-lasting fun with toys of various shapes.
The flavored condom market is plentiful and overwhelming, but sales and customer reviews agree that Skyn’s cocktail-inspired flavors are the frontrunner, featuring drink menu faves like Pina Colada, Passion Daiquiri, and Cherry Sunrise.
If you experience rashes or irritation after sex, The Okamoto 004 condoms contain soothing aloe vera to address these sex-related ailments. But be warned: Reviews report these condoms are smaller than average, so if you or your partner is well-endowed, these may not be a suitable option.
Many people have a latex allergy, meaning they cannot use the majority of condoms on the market. While not vegan, many opt for the luxury of lambskin, which has a more “natural” feeling texture. Lambskin condoms prevent pregnancy but not STI transmission, as they contain small pores that can allow for the passage of viruses.
If you’re a fan of lube (who isn’t!), Skyn’s Extra Lubricated has 40 percent more lubricant than your standard condom for an exceptionally slick experience.
Get it via Amazon
A diaphragm is a shallow, bendable cup that’s placed inside the vagina, covering your cervix during sex to prevent pregnancy. Diaphragms used with spermicide are 88 percent effective, but without the ingredient, that number drops to 80 percent. There aren’t many diaphragms on the market, admittedly, but Caya’s cup is an Amazon best-seller.
Note: This one is on the pricier side and only fits 80 percent of vaginas. If you have a retroverted uterus, it may not fit, so you’ll want to order a test fit through your healthcare provider or pharmacy before committing.
A dental dam is a soft plastic latex or polyurethane square that covers the female genital area, or anus, during oral sex. Like a diaphragm, dental dams aren’t as available as your standard condom. Cranberry Smart Dam is given the distinction of “Amazon’s Choice” and is further enforced by good reviews.
Trojan Her Pleasure condoms are coated with spermicide, a type of chemical that’s designed to kill sperm before entering the uterus.
There’s no evidence that spermicide condoms are any more effective than regular condoms and excessive use may increase risk of infection. That being said, if you do like spermicide-based lubes, it might be best to use them sparingly.
The Lifestyles Pleasure Collection gives you variety at a great value, encompassing their fan favorite condoms, including Ultra Ribbed, Ultra Sensitive, Ultra Thin, and other Skyn varieties of different colors and flavors to play around with and switch things up.
Get it via Lovability
Lovability is a condom created for women, by women, with deliciously packaged vagina-friendly and vegan condoms that are triple-tested and free of spermicides, dyes, and chemical irritants. Each condom is packed using easy-open “buttercup” wrappers so you don’t risk ripping the condom with your teeth.
Get it via P.S.
If you have sex so regularly that it requires a monthly subscription, there are many subscription services for condoms to choose from.
Many elect these subscription services to spare themselves of inconvenience or the running-into-your-aunt/uncle experience when purchasing condoms at a store. P.S. condoms are vegan, durable, well-lubricated, and can be delivered straight to your door every 30, 60, or 90 days.
Durex Prolong condoms contain heat-activated climax control lubricant on the inside and silky smooth lubricant on the outside. They also contain a male genital desensitizer to allow more control for him and more time for her. And that’s not all. The condoms have a ribbed and dotted texture for added sensation.
The Trojan ENZ fights pregnancy with a spillage-proof reservoir tip and spermicide.
Get it via Amazon
“Female” condoms, also known as internal condoms, can be inserted into the vagina 8 hours prior to sex.
Since there’s only one of these condoms approved by the FDA in the United States, we recommend the FC2 which has a flexible ring on both ends (the internal ring holds the condom inside the vagina; the external ring prevents the condom from fully entering the vagina) and contains a silicone-based lubricant on both the inside and outside to provide optimal comfort.
The variety of different condoms can be overwhelming, but it’s a good thing they are so many, since we all experience pleasure differently. A great way to start is to choose from the categories above that most appeal to you.
If you’re horny for the environment, start with an eco-friendly brand. If you’d like a condom that feels natural, perhaps a thinner latex or lambskin condom is best. Work from there and learn which materials, textures, and flavors suit you best. We’re talking about sex, after all, so it’s not like this experiment won’t be tons of fun.
Bobby Box is a journalist whose work on sex and culture has been published just about everywhere. Coming out as queer halfway through his career, Bobby has amassed a considerable and respected audience and has become recognized as a studied and shameless voice in the community. Follow him on Twitter at @bybobbybox.