Published January 14, 2015
Choosing a condom can have you feeling like a kid in a candy store. Between size, texture, material, types and special features, what’s a guy or gal to choose? Which one is the "perfect condom"? Here’s what every condom connoisseur needs to know.
Selecting a condom used to be easy; there was only one choice. According to the book "The Humble Little Condom," early condoms were small sheaths of oiled animal intestines or bladders that covered the top of the penis. It may sound totally unappealing, but consider the alternative: In early Egypt, male castration was recommended as a means to preventing conception.
Today, lovers have hundreds of condoms to choose from to prevent pregnancy and minimize the risk of acquiring a sexually transmitted disease (STD). When sizing up your smorgasbord of potential sensations, consider the following options in selecting your ideal condom:
One size does not fit all. Condoms that are too tight are likelier to break, especially during vigorous sex. A condom that is too loose, on the other hand, can fall off at any point. You want a condom with a snug fit, with some extra space at the tip.
Piggy-backing off of fit, consider the shape of your condom. Some are "regular," as in having straight sides. Others are form fitting, having indented sides. Either can impact your level of comfort.
Thicker latex condoms can reduce sensation for some men. Lifestyle, Trojan and Durex are not as thin, strong, or stretchy as Japanese-process brands like Skinless Skin and Kimono. (See UPDATE at the end of this column.)
Some condoms come with a nipple-shaped tip to catch semen. Some are advertised as having extra baggy heads, like Inspirals and Trojan Twisted, which are designed for increased sensation. These tend to get good reviews from men who are on the larger side and leave enough room for men with a piercing.
Condoms are available with ribs, bumps, studs or totally smooth for his and her pleasure. French tickler condoms contain a soft rubber or jelly tip for "tickling" during intercourse (note: French ticklers offer no STD or pregnancy protection).
Color and Look
Personal preferences enhance pleasure, including how the condom appeals to you visually. The condom’s color can reflect the moment’s mood. Consider, for example, the fun to be had with Glow-in-the-Dark condoms, like Night Light -- a non-toxic, FDA-approved condom that glows 30 seconds after exposure to light.
Not all condoms come with lubricant or the type of lube you prefer, like aloe versus aqua-based. You may need extra. Lubricant can completely change the feel of your condom. Adding a couple of drops inside of the condom head can make all of the difference in the world.
Most condom varieties are available with a spermicidal lubricant, though often not enough to kill all sperm effectively. While spermicide may offer extra protection when it comes to pregnancy, this nonoxynol-9 chemical may irritate some people.
Scent and Taste
Matters like flavors and aromas can act as a total turn on or turn off. You need to explore what works best for you and your lover.
These condoms release a warm sensation during sex. They contain a warming lubricant, which is activated by natural body moisturizers for some extra heat.
Durex’s Tingling Pleasure Condom contains spearmint lubricant.
As if these options don’t already have your head spinning, you’ve got even more options to consider in selecting the condom of your choice …
Thinner than latex condoms, polyurethane condoms are made of plastic, making them a super alternative for those with latex allergies. They provide as much pregnancy protection as their latex counterparts, and are thought to provide similar protection against STDs. But by being less stretchy, they’re more prone to breakage. While the looser fit makes for more comfort, they also slip off six times more often than latex during intercourse.
Users like this condom, sold under brand names like Avanti (by Durex) and Trojan Supra, for the increased sensations its thinner texture provides, especially in the transmission of heat. Unlike the latex condom, this transparent, odorless prophylactic can also be used with petroleum-based lubes such as Vaseline. Note: polyurethane is slightly more expensive than latex condoms.
Made of polyurethane, the female condom, marketed under the brand name Reality, is a plastic pouch, with a flexible, plastic ring at each end, worn inside the vagina.
Among its other benefits, the female condom can be inserted hours before sex, allowing for more spontaneity, and left in place for as long as you like after sex. It also gives women more control in using a contraceptive. For all of its benefits, users have complained that it can be noisy during sex.
FC2 Female Condom
This recently FDA-approved condom is a lower-cost, newer version of the female condom. Made of synthetic rubber, this version costs about 30 percent less than the original female condom. Approved by the World Health Organization in 2006, more than 23 million FC2 condoms have been distributed by UN agencies in 77 countries.
As the newest condom on market, this sheer prophylactic is made of a material similar to latex. It’s great for those with a latex allergy in being synthetically formulated to remove compounds that can cause irritation. Made exclusively by Lifestyles as SKYN, it is also more form-fitting, with its stretchiness feeling more like latex. These condoms are also cheaper than polyurethane condoms. (See UPDATE at the end of this column.)
Made of animal membranes, what’s commonly known as the lambskin or sheepskin condom provides a natural look and feel. While expensive, it’s a great option for those who have a latex allergy. Yet, it's porous, so while this condom protects against pregnancy, it does not provide protection against STDs, including HIV. So make sure that you and your lover have been tested for infections before getting your groove on.
These specialty condoms, typically found in sex shops, adult bookstores or in restroom condom machines, are not good for pregnancy or STD protection.
When deciding on what condom is right for you, experiment. Stop by a sex shop, where you’re typically allowed to handle different types of condoms and consult with sales clerks. These stores also often sell sample packs. Buy a selection of styles and sizes for an evening of adventure.
UPDATE: This column originally overlooked that Durex Consumer Products, in addition to Lifestyles, makes a polyisoprene condom under the brand name Avanti Bare. It should also be noted that the comment regarding Lifestyle, Trojan and Durex condoms not being "as thin, strong, or stretchy as Japanese-process brands like Skinless Skin and Kimono" is an opinion that has been expressed on a List-serv for sexuality education professionals; there is no research to support it.
Dr. Yvonne K. Fulbright is a sex educator, relationship expert, columnist and founder of Sexuality Source Inc. She is the author of several books including, "Touch Me There! A Hands-On Guide to Your Orgasmic Hot Spots."