“I did some research,” my boyfriend texted me. “It involved an erection, mathematics and marketing data.” The subject of our conversation: new condoms were in order. And it got us both thinking about how, yes, people are taught to buy condoms. But what happens next, and how does it affect their sex lives?
It seems like a no-brainer, but if you’re having sex with condoms, finding the right condoms for you can make your sex life better. “If you find something that fits you, it’s going to enhance the experience,” sex educator and author Dr. Logan Levkoff says. “You’re far more likely to be engaged and excited.” Plus, there’s the bonus of both partners being able to enjoy sex safely with considerably less concern about pregnancy or STIs. About that — did you know the 98% effectiveness rating for condoms isn’t based on 100 couples having sex one time? “It’s 100 couples having sex approximately 83 times a year,” Levkoff says, so approximately 8,300 sex acts. Out of those 8,300 sex acts, there were two pregnancies, making the pregnancy rate .02%. Given that, it’s easy to understand why condoms remain at the top of the list for both affordability and protection.
Even with these bonuses, many men complain about having to use condoms: that they’re uncomfortable, too tight, that they block sensitivity. “This becomes a word-of-mouth gendered assumption that we sometimes hear before we have very many critical thinking skills about sex,” Good Vibrations Staff Sexologist Dr. Carol Queen says.
“It’s part of the rap that so many people are exposed to, before they’ve ever gotten their mitts on a condom.” Levkoff agrees. “People are growing up being told, ‘sex without one is so much better.’ And so the assumption is, ‘well, I’m not going to like it,’ or ‘I’m not going to find one.’” But in reality, this doesn’t have to be the case. If you’re experiencing physical discomfort, pain or even annoyance with a condom, you might simply be using the wrong ones because the right condoms shouldn’t take anything away from your sexual experience.
You might also think that your condom of choice works fine for you, and that’s great. But there are also options for you to expand your horizons and discover new pleasures. Ultimately, condoms should be fun. “At the end of the day, if you’re using a condom, it means you’re getting laid, right?,” Levkoff says. “That’s a positive.”
Sex should be as much fun as possible, so we got some expert intel on how to find a condom that’s best for you.
A Note About Latex
Latex allergies are real, but luckily there are multiple effective options in other materials like polyisoprene, polyurethane and lambskin. But it’s worth noting that the poly condoms may not have as much stretch. Lambskin condoms act as contraceptives but do not guard against STIs and tend to be four to five times the cost of polyurethane, polyisoprene or latex condoms. And make sure to ask your partner about their reaction to latex as well.
Fit Is Everything
A condom should fit snugly, but Levkoff notes that you shouldn’t feel like your circulation is being cut off. There should also be no itching or burning, which could be the sign of a latex allergy. A condom should cover the entire shaft of the penis, and it should stay put: this means no rolling down, bunching up or sliding off. All condoms are more snug at the base, but overall discomfort brought on by tightness means you need a larger condom because it could tear. Sliding means you need a smaller one because you don’t want it to fall off. There should also be room at the tip for ejaculation. Queen notes that a condom fits when you’re able to sustain pleasure, when you’re not stopping to think about the condom and you’re able to stay in the moment.
But Size Isn’t Everything
While you can certainly measure the length and girth of your penis to find a condom that works for you (Trojan has a Condom Finder Quiz that can help) it’s important to note that every erection is different — not just from person to person, but within your own body as well. “You can certainly look at some of those guides in order to find out, [but] I always feel like when it comes to people’s bodies and sexuality, it’s not a guarantee that it will be the right thing for you,” Levkoff says. “And probably most importantly, not to feel badly if those things aren’t the right ones for you. Just because someone says ‘these are good for whatever’ doesn’t mean that’s for everyone.”
It’s important to understand the relationship between length and girth. “The length and the girth together are going to mean that the amount of stretch and sizing of the condom is going to be affected in both directions,” Queen says. “Somebody with a potentially average sized penis that’s pretty girthy might still find that the condom doesn’t cover them adequately.” So what Queen and Levkoff both suggest is experimenting and exploring different options that could be right for you.
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Time to Explore
Condoms today are not the condoms of our youth sex-ed classes — there have been so many innovations that the options are now numerous. A great way to begin your search is to try a variety pack. This could include a range of sizes, textures, shapes, thicknesses and more. Levkoff says that it makes experimenting efficient, and now that there are multiple outlets from which to purchase (from drugstores to specialty online condom shops), there are a wealth of condoms at your fingertips for exploration. “It’s not just about knowing what you like, it’s also about knowing what you don’t like,” Levkoff says.
And just as with a potential latex allergy, it’s important to know your partner’s needs and desires. Feel free to ask them if there are condoms they like. Remember this is something that’s going inside another person’s body, so it’s important to consider their pleasure, too.
Don’t Forget the Lube
“We recommend lube with condoms all the time, not just for comfort, but also to make the condom function optimally,” Queen says. If you don’t have enough lubrication, a condom can rip. Water and silicone-based lubes are always the order of the day as oil-based lubricants — including actual oils like coconut — can wear away at condoms and cause them to tear during intercourse. “Water-based lubes tend to dry up pretty quickly, and silicone lubes are slightly longer lasting,” Levkoff says. “That’s impactful for the type of sex you’re having. If you’re having anal sex, not only do you want to add lubricant to a condom, but a water-based lube is probably not going to do the trick. A silicone-base would.”
Finding a lube that you and your partner like is another situation of trial and error because, like with condoms, everyone will have different preferences. “Everyone produces different amounts of natural lubrication,” Levkoff says. “And by the way, that’s not a sign of how aroused someone is or not.” Another important note is that spermicidal lubricants are not always 100% friendly to the vagina’s mucosa, so a standard water- or silicone-based lube is still best.
Queen even has a helpful lube and condom hack. “Put a maximum of three or four drops of your safe-to-use lubricant on the inside of the condom before you put it on,” she says. “It will make the head of the condom move on the head of the penis, which is the part of the penis that is most homologous to the clitoris and likes sensation. But don’t put a whole big squirt in there because then the condom is going to wiggle around on the penis and potentially come right off.”
The Condom Don’ts
You should never use gag gift condoms for intercourse. This means no glow-in-the-dark, flavored or otherwise joke condoms, as they’re not regulated as medical devices by the Food and Drug Administration, like what you would find in the drugstore or another reputable retailer. But flavored dams for oral sex are absolutely allowed.
And then there’s storage. “Don’t keep them in your wallet,” Queen says. “You’re not supposed to get them warm, put them in direct sunlight or break the package at all. If you’re gonna throw condoms in your backpack, you need to get an old fashioned hard shell glasses case and stick them in there so that they are protected.”
Remember to Have Fun
“The thing about condoms is that condoms are actually designed to be pleasure enhancing, right?,” Levkoff says. “That it is freeing to not be wondering what might happen during unprotected sex. Yeah, you could walk down the condom aisle at the drugstore and just pick whatever at random, but you don’t even do that with your sneakers, so why do it here? You have the option to make selections that are right for you, that will only enhance your sexual experience, and this is actually an empowering act.”
“Any time we consider our sexuality and sex life and think about whether there are elements of it that we would like to improve upon, we own our sexuality a little more, we take responsibility,” Queen says. “We don’t allow sexuality and sexual experience to be a thing that happens to us that we don’t have agency over. And that’s just extremely, extremely important. It’s pleasure boosting.”