A condom that fits like a glove is a non-negotiable for safe sex—too big and you run the risk of it slipping off, too snug and it’s more apt to break. That means it’s also crucial for great sex because the less you have to worry about, the more you can focus on the moment.
But a stroll down the “family planning” aisle with its seemingly infinite options of birth control is enough to cause anxiety and turn you off: Will “her pleasure” really send her over the edge? Is “warming” a good sensation or not? And who really needs magnums?
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The descriptions on the boxes (like”stimulation where it counts”) aren’t super helpful either. So we put together this expert-backed guide to learn what each type of condom claims to do (and how it does those things). That way you can select the one(s) with the right fit and feel for you and your partner. It’ll probably take some experimentation—and that’s the best part.
Magnum, Standard, and Snug Fit
Size does matter—for safety as well as pleasure. In a recent study on condom usage, men wearing ill-fitting condoms were almost twice as likely to remove their protection before sex was over than their counterparts wearing proper fitting onesDoes it fit okay? Problems with condom use as a function of self-reported poor fit. Crosby RA, Yarber WL, Graham CA, et al. Sexually Transmitted Infections. 2010 Feb;86(1):36-8.. Of course, that’s not a good thing since going truly bare boosts the risk of pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs). But keeping on a too-snug or too-loose condom and having it break or slip also raises these risks.When it comes to pleasure, men in the same study were almost twice as likely to say they lost an erection or found it difficult to climax with an ill-fitting condom on—and they were also almost twice as likely to report that it was hard for their lady friend to orgasm too.So it’s not (always) an ego thing when a man buys magnum rubbers. Some men have thicker erections, and in these cases, the need for a larger size condom is very real, says clinical sexologist and sex educator Patti Britton, Ph.D., M.P.H. Otherwise, the painful and restrictive feeling (or lack of any feeling) of having their penis in a chokehold from a condom that’s too tight can be distracting, making it hard to keep an erection.If a guy can’t feel much sensation at all, it may be that a condom is too loose. If this is the case or if average-sized rubbers feel too roomy (condoms should be comfy overall but snug around the shaft to prevent slippage), Melissa White, CEO of online condom retailer LuckyBloke.com, recommends buying boxes labeled “snug” or “slim” fit. Smaller condoms are not always sold at conventional retailers, though, so if your local pharmacy doesn’t carry them, hit the Internet. (Bonus: no embarrassment having to face the high school clerk giving you that look.)
These love gloves aim to increase pleasure by mimicking the feel of wearing nothing at all. Thinner condoms means there’s less of a barrier between you and your partner, so you can feel each other more and there’s more heat transfer between you two, says Jennifer Landa, M.D., co-author of The Sex Drive Solution for Women. That all helps him maintain an erection too. And no worry about breakage: These thin condoms offer just as much protection as regular ones as long as they are FDA-approved, Britton says. Win, win, and win!
Textured and Her Pleasure
Up to 30 percent of women are unable to orgasm during intercourse aloneNormal Variations in Personality Are Associated With Coital Orgasmic Infrequency in Heterosexual Women: A Population-Based Study. Harris, J.M., Cherkas, L.F., Kato, B.S., et al. Journal of Sexual Medicine,2008 May;5(5):1177-83.. Perhaps that’s why companies started selling ribbed, studded, and dotted condoms with strategically placed ridges and bumps that may enhance the friction a woman feels against her vaginal walls—particularly if her man is on the smaller side. Women want to feel their partners inside of them, Britton says. Over the years her female clients have reported that these “ladies first” rubbers create more friction, giving a feeling of fullness.But for gals with average-sized or bigger partners, these condoms could go either way. Some may not feel much of a difference, says certified sex therapist Gracie Landes, because the vaginal walls don’t have a lot of nerve endings and are full of wrinkles, folds, and bumps in their own right. (Plus women usually orgasm from their clitoris.) Other women might find the added texture irritating. If you’re jonesing to try these, look for condoms with ribbing at the base, which are more likely to provide clitoral stimulation, says Alyssa Dweck, M.D., co-author of V is for Vagina.
About a third of men report coming too soon at least once in their lives, so of course there are condoms that aim to help guys last longer. But these aren’t without some caveats: First, the inside of climax control condoms are coated with a mild numbing ingredient (typically benzocaine or lidocaine) that can ironically (or some might say cruelly) cause some men to go limp by preventing sensation. Second, if the numbing agent gets on the woman’s vulva—which can easily happen if a guy gets it on his fingers when donning the condom and then puts his fingers inside of her later—she may end up feeling numb.While White says these may be a good pick for a guy who typically ejaculates prematurely or before his partner, Dweck adds that most men don’t need added control since a regular condom already constricts blood flow to the penis, which delays ejaculation. (And don’t forget the tried-and-true stop-start technique.)
Spermicidal lubricant is the mother of all catch 22s: While it kills sperm on contact, offering added pregnancy prevention, the active ingredient (nonoxynol-9) can irritate a woman’s vulvar tissue and vaginal lining, ruining sex for her and causing microtears that boost her risk of contracting HIV or other STIs, Britton says. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) agree that condoms with nonoxynol-9 should not be promoted or used for infection or disease prevention. And if you read the fine print on a box of these, it’ll say never to use a spermicidal condom more than once a day (there goes marathon sex sessions).Bottom line: Just about the only instance these are completely safe to use is if you’re in a monogamous relationship, neither partner has an STI, and you’re looking purely for contraception.
Warming, cooling, tingling, oh my! Condoms with lubes that add sensations tend to attract couples who are looking to spice things up in the bedroom, says Stephanie Berez, a Trojan rep. And some people say they really deliver, intensifying sex for both partners.While Trojan won’t share proprietary ingredient information on what they add to create these special effects, Lifestyles says its Turbo Charged Condom contains menthol, which creates a tingling sensation, as well as L-arginine, a supplement that has been shown in some studies to boost blood flow to the penis and improve erectile function when ingested orally—its topical effects are less clear.And although all the big brands assert that their sensation products are rigorously tested, some gynecologists and sex educators are a little skeptical. Menthol is an alcohol, and it can irritate the genitals and, for the ladies, feel like someone’s going down on them after brushing their teeth, Landa says. For some, that’s a little too minty fresh.
Reservoir Tips and Comfort Fit
With extra room at the head, these love gloves guarantee there’s a place for semen to go, lowering the chance of a busted condom or slippage at climax. In addition to the special tip, comfort fit (a.k.a. “pleasure shaped”) condoms have a fitted base and an oversized head that gives a guy leverage to move around once he’s inside his partner, which can intensify sensation for him since the tip of his penis isn’t being constricted. Comfort fit condoms can be especially pleasurable for men who are uncircumcised, White adds. To get the full benefit, Britton suggests squeezing a drop of lube down into the tip before rolling it on, which will provide a squishy feeling that simulates being inside of a vagina with nothing on.
The American Latex Allergy Association reports that about 3 million people in the U.S. (less than 1 percent of the population) are allergic to latex. So yes, latex allergies are rare—but they’re also serious business. Reactions can range from a mild rash to total whole-body allergic reaction, which can be life-threatening.If you notice redness, a rash, itchiness, and/or irritation either on your genitals or anywhere else on your body after contact with a latex condom, you may be allergic, says Lauren Streicher, M.D., author of Sex Rx: Hormones, Health, and Your Best Sex Ever. She recommends getting busy with a non-latex condom such as one made with polyisoprene and polyurethane (which perform just as well as latex and hold up to all types of intercourse) to see if your symptoms abate. If they do, you likely are latex allergic, but if you’re still irritated, it may be the spermicide or lubricant on the condom that’s the culprit, Streicher says. Lambskin may be also an option if you’re in a monogamous relationship and need to avoid latex; these allow for greater sensation but they offer zero protection against STIs, which means it’s just like going bare, safety-wise.
Organic, Vegan, and Chemical-Free
Free-range, organic… condoms? They’re a thing now! As they well should be: We’re careful with our food, so why not our rubbers? Several brands, such as L. Condoms, Sir Richard’s, and Glyde, make condoms with chemical-, glycerin-, and paraben-free lubricants because these additives may have negative effects on sexual health. A 2010 animal study showed glycerin might increase susceptibility to sexually transmitted infections such as herpes, and although parabens don’t affect STI risk, they may mess with female hormonesMicrobicide excipients can greatly increase susceptibility to genital herpes transmission in the mouse. Moench TR, Mumper RJ, Hoen TE, et al.BMC Infectious Diseases. 2010 Nov 18;10:331..L. Condoms, Glyde, and Sir Richard’s are also vegan-certified, with creds from Vegan.org, the Vegan Society, and the American Vegetarian Association, respectively; they use latex that is free of casein, a dairy-derived additive often used in condom production. Perhaps the best part about these condoms is that you can have your (vegan) cake and eat it too: All of the brands meet the FDA’s regulatory guidelines. In fact, they each use silicone-based lubes since the FDA has not yet approved condoms made with organic lubricants (it would degrade the latex). So you can feel safe during your, ahem, recreational activities, all the while doing good for your body and being kind to the (other) animals!
Ultimately, finding the right condom comes down to what you and your partner like best, and some sexy trial and error is really the only way to find out. Be seductive and playful about it, and you may just find it’s great foreplay, Britton says. You can even buy a variety pack at some drugstores or online if you’re concerned that buying a bunch of different boxes will cut into your budget. Sexy, safe, and more money in our pockets? Talk about scoring.