It’s no secret that men have a pretty bad rap for being reluctant to use condoms. Frankly — while condoms are a crucial component of consent and safety and trying to talk your partner out of using one is extremely reprehensible behavior — I can’t really blame you. Condoms can be kind of a mood killer for everyone involved. They feel weird, they taste weird and they can make it difficult or even nearly impossible for a penis-haver to stay hard, none of which typically makes for a particularly satisfying sex session.
Unfortunately, if you want to enjoy sex outside of a monogamous relationship, you kind of have to use one for the good of your own sexual health and that of your partners. Yes, I know we all understand this on an intellectual level and yes, I know that even when you are aware that you should be using condoms, actually putting that wisdom into practice is often easier said than done. Speaking from experience, I know that it can all be too easy to forego barriers as a single person having sex with multiple partners. Sure, using a condom is still the right thing to do, but if you and your partner, as two consenting adults, both agree to ditch it, then that’s your prerogative.
If, however, you’re in a non-monogamous relationship where using protection is part of your agreement with your primary partner, or engaging in sex-positive communities like sex clubs or parties where condom-use is strongly expected and/or enforced, there’s a lot more accountability at hand. In many cases, the kinkier you want to get, the more imperative condom use becomes.
Fortunately, there are ways to make it suck less, and no, they don’t involve just sucking it up and using a condom because it’s the right thing to do. (It is, though.)
Use thinner condoms
The main problem that turns most men off of condoms seems to be the lack of physical sensation associated with having a layer of latex between your penis and its orifice of choice, which is certainly a reasonable complaint to have. Fortunately, according to sex columnist Zachary Zane, a sex expert for P.S. Condoms, while some loss of feeling is more or less inevitable with condom use, “you can definitely do some things to help increase sensation.”
First and foremost, look for a thinner condom. There’s a (pretty obvious) reason so many condom brands advertise their thinness: the less there is between your dick skin and whatever it’s penetrating, the better.
Still, since pretty much every condom on the market claims to be ultra-thin these days, it can be easy to get lost in the advertising lingo. To find a truly thin condom, Zane recommends looking for condoms that are advertised as being 40% thinner than the competition.
“Often, people opt for the free condoms that STI clinics hand out. Obviously, that’s great, especially for folks who can’t afford condoms,” says Zane. “However, those free condoms are typically THICK. So if you can afford them, splurge on thinner condoms.”
”Make sure you read the dimensions of the condom on the package, not the marketing language,” echoes Joe Kort, PhD, certified sex therapist, and founder and director of
the Center for Relationship and Sexual Health in Royal Oak, Michigan. “Standard condoms usually are 0.07 millimeters thick, but you can purchase ultra thin (which are just as effective and safe) that are 0.05 millimeters or even thinner.”
Don’t psych yourself out
Physical dimensions like fit and thickness are crucial, but Kort argues that a good condom experience actually starts in the brain.
“The problem in most cases is psychological, not physical. Some men may get anxious, nervous or stressed when they put on a condom because they worry they won’t be able to perform,” says Kort. In other words, “Sometimes men worry themselves soft; they are so consumed with thoughts that condom use will ruin the moment or their erection that it actually happens.”
This is a completely normal experience that many penis-havers encounter. After all, as Kort reminds us, “Your penis is not your main sexual organ; it’s your brain.” Unfortunately, that mental discomfiture can have real, physical effects.
“Nerves are the enemy of erection,” says Kort. “When your stress level rises, your body produces adrenaline that can turn off bodily functions not connected to survival mode, which means no erection.”
Okay, great. But what exactly are you supposed to do about it? “Stay positive, stay calm, and enjoy each other. It all will happen naturally,” says Kort.
Right. But since we all know calming the hell down and just not thinking about it is easier said than done, here’s some real advice.
Embrace the “condom moment”
According to Kort, just the idea or process of putting on a condom can be enough to trigger boner-killing levels of anxiety. “Sometimes, just the ‘condom moment’ pause can cause the penis to soften,” says Dr. Kort, adding that even those five little words, “Do you have a condom?” can be enough to make a man go limp if he has, however inadvertently, “trained [his] brain to lose an erection just thinking about and hearing the word condom.”
One way of reducing this pre-condom anxiety is to make the “condom moment” part of the sexual experience, rather than an interruption. ”Have your partner put on the condom for you,” says Kort, adding that putting on a condom doesn’t have to be an awkward, abrupt transition, but can actually be an erotic act in and of itself. “The condom-wearing moment should be part of the erotic experience, not a disruption.”
Most importantly, make sure you and your partner actually know where the condom is before things get hot and heavy. Nothing kills the mood like an awkward scramble through your bedside drawer for a probably expired condom that you think “must be in here somewhere, haha!”
Forget about your dick for a second
Like many sex experts these days, Kort suggests focusing on foreplay and outercourse, rather than goal-oriented intercourse. Yes, if you’re not having penetrative sex, then technically you probably don’t even need a condom — but that’s kind of the point.
Citing research from William Masters and Virginia Johnson — AKA the inventors of sex therapy — Kort suggests that when the focus (and corresponding pressure) is taken off penetrative sex, anxieties and physical manifestations of those anxieties (read: erectile dysfunction, premature ejaculation and trouble staying hard) are often relieved, allowing men to perform with ease when the time comes. According to Kort, “Condom use concerns became unimportant when couples focused on sensual touching, erotic massage and even mutual oral sex.”
Timing is everything
I get it: you’re about to have sex and it’s so exciting that you just want to be having sex right now as soon as you get this stupid condom on. But, like the goddamn tortoise and the hare or whatever, trying to get there too quickly might mean you never get there at all.
According to Kort, “trying to put the condom on too soon” could be a fatal mistake — for your boner, anyway. “Wait until you have the best possible erection,” he says. “Some men may think they are ready to go but they may only be 75 percent erect. Putting on a condom at this time can cause you to go limp.” In other words: “Wait until you are 100 percent hard as a rock before putting on a condom.”
One good way to get there? Foreplay. “Have a lot of foreplay when you have sex,” says Zane. “When you’re very hard and super close to having an orgasm, you can often put on the condom and penetrate and orgasm with the condom on.”
Practice, Practice, Practice
Practice makes perfect, and the best way to get used to using a condom is to just use one — with a partner, but also with yourself.
It may sound silly, but both Kort and Zane recommend masturbating with a condom in order to get used to the (reduced) sensation.
“I’ll be honest, it’s not easy, but the best thing you can do is actually wear condoms while masturbating by yourself,” says Zane “Get used to the sensation of wearing a condom alone, and then it’ll be easier when with a partner.”
If all else fails, be prepared to acknowledge where you’re at. Remember, if you don’t want to use a condom or feel you can’t, that is 100% on you. “Never, ever pressure a partner into not wearing a condom,” says Zane. “Your inability to orgasm is your responsibility, not theirs.” Still, if you know wearing a condom is simply not going to happen for you, be honest about it with your sexual partners up front (ideally before any hot and heavy action starts going down) so that they can make an informed decision about the level of risk they’re willing to assume.
“I like to meet people where they’re at,” says Zane. “If someone doesn’t like using condoms and doesn’t want to use them, please have bareback sex as safely as you can. Make sure you start taking PrEP in order to reduce the risk of contracting HIV. Make sure to get tested regularly.”
Be safe, be smart and, please, at least try to use a condom before you go about blending literal bodily fluids with people.