Condom Sense: The Ins and Outs of Rubbers
Which condom is the best? Well, as in many choices in life, from wine to haircuts to cars, it all depends on who's asking! Not all penises are alike and condoms are not one-size-fits-all. You might be surprised to know that there are actually a lot of things to consider when selecting the right rubber. Unfortunately, many people suffer through multiple sessions of less-than-pleasurable sex because they assume that condoms are uncomfortable by default. When you find one that fits, you're more likely to use them and enjoy sex, which is optimal for our sexual health and pleasure. Whether you're using them on yourself or with a partner, this guide will help you find the best condom for you.
A Matter of Size and Shape
The first thing to consider is the size of the penis and the condom. Of course, it's an ego boost to use larger ones such as the Microthin Large, but the truth is that a condom won't change the size of your penis (and in reality, there are often more complaints from partners about a penis being too large than too small). And wearing a condom that's too big can feel like wearing a plastic bag—not to mention that there is a danger of it falling off, defeating the purpose of donning it in the first place. So how do you know what size you are? The standard toilet paper roll test states that if you can snugly fit an erection inside an empty toilet roll then you need "regular" sized condoms. If it is uncomfortable once inside, then you need large, and if there is wiggle room, so to speak, slim is your size. If you're using a condom on your sex toys for safer sex, a large one is good for use on a wand-style toy and a slim one is good for some of the thinner toys.
The next consideration is the shape. Yes, condoms come in different shapes just like penises. Some penises love condoms with a narrowing that hugs the head, while others prefer their condom to be perfectly straight. Some like ripples on the outside, others like smooth. A popular option for enhancing pleasure are ribs on the inside or on the outside of the condom. While ribs on the outside sound appealing for the partner, most people either cannot feel them or find them downright non-pleasurable, with very few people in between who actually appreciate the extra sensations. Ribs on the outside can be particularly uncomfortable for anal sex. Ridges on the inside, however can be extremely delightful to the penis owner, especially with a roomy head. Pleasure Plus, for example, is a brand that transforms condoms from a necessary tool to a pleasure enhancer. With an extra roomy head (the spot of most discomfort from condoms), not only is there no constriction on the head, but the ribs on the inside pleasure the head with each movement in or out. These condoms tend to be a hit in particular with those who need to use condoms for safer sex but are not used to using condoms or who lose their erections when using regular condoms.
People who are uncircumcised have an additional challenge with putting on condoms. It is recommended to pull back the foreskin, unroll the condom to the base and then allow the foreskin to roll back up while you hold down the base of the condom. This way the foreskin can move more naturally under the condom. Condoms with roomy heads give the foreskin a little extra space to move more freely and comfortably while still maintaining sexual health and safer sex.
- If you are using condoms on your sex toys like dildos, vibrators, and anal toys, then you just need a basic non-lubricated condom without worrying about ribs or thinness or sensitivity. It makes clean up easier and it also is a great option for safer sex. Since you just need something reliable to do the trick, these tend to be less expensive as well.
- Many folks like super-thin condoms for added sensitivity. The Microthin and 004 are popular options and folks find that they maintain more of the pleasurable sensations. The LELO Hex styles have a unique honeycomb pattern on the inside that increases sensitivity and prevents tears from enlarging beyond the individual honeycomb, which is an advantage if a condom breaks. The tear will be large enough to see but small enough to be contained, reducing spillage of semen and skin-to-skin contact.
- The B Condoms are also sensitive condoms made by a Black-owned company, which is a fabulous option for those who want a great condom while supporting Black-owned businesses.
Latex These condoms are cheaper and come in many colours, tastes, and sizes. A challenge with latex, however, is the smell. It has a particular odour and taste that many folks find offensive, especially when including oral sex in the mix. Flavoured condoms can reduce some of the unpopular smell and taste, or the Crown and Beyond Seven brands of condom use a type of latex with less odour and taste.
Non-latex If you're allergic to latex, there are multiple non-latex options. And it's not only people with latex allergies who love them. The FC2 Insertive Condom goes inside the body rather than on a penis or sex toy. They're great for folks who have a hard time maintaining erections since the condom doesn't constrain the penis. They're particularly effective for anal play, reducing uncomfortable friction while maximizing pleasurable sensations. (In fact, the rumour is that this condom was designed for anal sex but could not acquire FDA approval for activity still illegal in many US states!)
The Skyn line is made of polyisoprene and folks claim that it gives increased sensitivity for the wearer.
Lambskin condoms Alternatively, lambskin condoms have lots of fans who find that the natural material is worth the extra price. The only caveat in these is that they only protect against pregnancy and not sexually transmitted infections (STIs), so they are best for committed relationships. If lamb is not your thing or you are vegan, Glyde and Kimono are brands with animal-free latex. Surprised that animal products are in condoms? The milk protein casein is often used in latex production.
Feeling Great Using Condoms
Most people resist using condoms because they feel it robs them of their pleasure. Try these suggestions to feel good about using condoms and feel good while using condoms:
- First of all put a little lubricant (dime-sized, not too much!) on the inside of the condom before you put it on and then slather a whole lot on the outside. Lube makes everything feel better. And some sex is a little dryer, such as when the penis is going inside the vagina of someone who is (post) menopausal, is breastfeeding, or on medications, thus you'll need even more on the outside. Lube is generally also important for anal sex since the anus produces next-to-no lubrication.
- Silicone lubricant is the type usually used on condoms, as it does not dry out. A silicone lube will usually last longer than a water-based lube. And never use any oil-based lubricants on your latex condoms.
- Some folks like to add some temperature to their condoms like lubes that offer cooling or heat. Be careful before you use them, especially if you or your partner has sensitive skin. Test your reaction to them on less sensitive areas like the inside of your wrist or thigh before putting them on your most sensitive regions. Our sensitive parts tend to be less forgiving!
- Along the same lines, nonoxynol-9 is a spermicide added to some condoms (and lubricants) as a way of further protection against pregnancy by killing sperm. This product was actually originally a hospital cleaner, so if it was designed to kill bacteria in hospitals, you can imagine what it can do to your sensitive internal tissues. And because of this irritation, it is believed that using spermicides will make the transmission of STIs actually easier. Most folks avoid spermicide for these reasons.
The best way to find your own particular best groove is to try out several options. You can buy singles of a variety of different condoms at Good for Her for this very purpose. Try a few different kinds until you find the best one for you and your partner. And make sure that you keep a sense of humour during your research phase. There are likely to be some funny moments or mishaps along the way, but it is all worth it in the end, in the quest for ultimate safer sex, sexual health, safety and pleasure!