Condoms: A Buyer’s Guide
Since the days of awkward classroom demonstrations and cringeworthy education videos, Americans have made important if uneven progress when it comes to open and honest discussions about safe sex. But even if your average high schooler now understands the importance of consent and condom use better than previous generations, actual discussions about sexual pleasure and comfort remain rare, which can still hurt the development of healthy attitudes towards sexual intimacy.
Nowhere is that more evident than the conversation around condoms, which are still too-often stigmatized as both an embarrassing purchase and an unwelcome restriction on sexual pleasure. In fact, condoms today come in a variety of options that are far better designed and manufactured than previous generations could hope for, with features to make sex more pleasurable, not less.
But because we still don’t discuss the ins and outs (sorry, we had to) of condoms, it’s no surprise that most people still just grab whatever they can buy with the least amount of embarrassment. Therefore, we’re happy to present this Buyer’s Guide- the results of our extensive testing- to hopefully help you select a condom that can do a lot more than just protect against pregnancy and Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs).
How Important Are Condoms?
To put it simply, condoms are extremely safe, and just as important. CDC statistics show that condoms are 98% effective at preventing pregnancy and most STIs when used correctly, and still 85% effective even while accounting for incorrect use (if you haven’t learned how to use condoms correctly, please read up on that before going on with this article). And while there’s no shame in being sexually active, it’s important to know that those same CDC statistics suggest that only one third of Americans use condoms regularly, meaning that it’s crucial to protect yourself and your partner during intercourse. Simply put, if you’re sexually active and not trying for pregnancy, especially in a non-exclusive relationship, you should be using condoms every time you have sex.
So the question stands- how does one go about figuring out which condoms don’t suck?
Latex vs. Alternatives
Almost all condoms are made out of latex, a naturally derived rubber that’s perfectly safe for the vast majority of people. However, for about 1-6% of the population, latex can cause an allergic reaction that ranges in severity from mild rash to life-threatening anaphylaxis, so it’s extremely important to know if you or your partner are at risk before using latex condoms for sexual activity.
If you do require a latex alternative, there are several products worth considering. Our top pick is the SKYN brand from Lifestyles. In the past, non-latex condoms have suffered from intersecting issues of strength and softness- in order to make them strong enough to not break, they’ve been notably thicker and less comfortable than normal latex. But SKYN’s new “SKYNFEEL” material (synthetic polyisoprene) is strong enough to increase the thinness by 20% over the original SKYN material, greatly increasing the sensation and comfort to provide an extremely pleasurable experience. We’d recommend the SKYN SELECTION, a variety pack that includes extra lubricated and studded options for you and your partner’s enjoyment.
Those with or without latex allergies may also be curious about a non-latex option that dates back centuries- condoms made of lambskin, available in brands such as Trojan Naturalamb Natural Skin Condoms. While it’s true that lambskin is extremely thin and can provide intense sensation for both partners, we don’t recommend it without a little research to know what you’re getting into. Not only are lambskin condoms significantly more expensive than regular condoms (generally about 5x the cost!), but they only reliably protect against pregnancy, and not STIs, making them a poor choice for non-monogamous sexual activity. When you factor in additional difficulty in usage (they tend to roll back up) and what can only be described as a distinct and somewhat strange smell, the tradeoffs aren’t necessarily worth the added sensation.
Is “Ultra-Thin” Safe?
In the past, condoms described as ultra-thin, extra-thin, or something similar have had a serious drawback compared to those of standard thickness- an extra possibility of breaking during intercourse. But newer manufacturing techniques have resulted in thin condoms that deliver intense skin-to-skin sensation with much if not all the strength of a much thicker, less enjoyable option. We particularly like the Durex Invisible Premium Lubricated Sheer Latex Condom, which boasts a 5% reduction in thickness from their previously thinnest Extra Sensitive variety. Sensation-wise, it really does make a difference, and while Durex advises against using oil-based lubricants such as petroleum jelly for safety reasons, the pre-lubrication that they already come with helps ensure that you won’t need to even worry about it.
All of this having been said, however, all condoms still carry a risk of breakage, so you should always pay attention during sex- never assume any condom is unbreakable.
The Truth About Magnums
Just about everyone knows the reputation of “Magnums,” the condom marketed towards men with larger-than-average equipment. It’s a product that’s been the beneficiary of the world’s greatest word-of-mouth marketing campaign, as every guy naturally wants to feel above average when it comes to penis size. But what many guys don’t realize is that Magnums are only slightly larger than regular condoms- about half an inch longer and .12 inches wider. This may be because when you tally up the global statistics, there’s much less of a difference between small, average, and large penis size than people are led to believe- meaning for anyone under 8 inches long, XL condoms aren’t really that crucial. However, if regular condoms do feel overly snug on you, we recommend the Trojan Magnum Bareskin Large Size Condoms, which combine a bit of extra room with a thin design for added sensitivity and pleasure.
Studded For Pleasure?
Sex should always be about both partners, and the condom market is overflowing with products that claim to address the needs of one’s partner with intricate designs that include ribs or studs to increase sensation such as the Trojan Ultra Ribbed Ecstasy Lubricated Condoms, as well as some newer models such as the Trojan G Spot Premium Lubricated Condoms that combine strategically placed ribs with a shape that hangs loose in certain areas to increase the friction on pleasure points during intercourse.
While we found that standard ribs do indeed provide some pleasurable extra sensation, overall we would issue a warning- the more complicated the condom design, the less likely it is to work as promised. Take the Trojan G Spot model, which is supposed to rub against the female g spot during sex. Not only did it not really do much in our tests, but in order to provide additional strength for the unusual movement of the condom, it’s made out of a very thick latex which can actually cause some discomfort for both partners. There’s nothing wrong with ribs or studs, but we’d caution you against assuming it’s going to take your sexual experience to the next level unless your partner has specifically told you it’s what they enjoy. To put it another way, people have been having sex for millennia- there’s no need to get too fancy.
Does Performance Enhancement Work
For similar reasons, we’re not big fans of condoms that advertise numbing lubricants such as Durex Performax or Trojan Extended Pleasure. These products really do work, in the sense that they numb the penis with a topical anesthetic called benzocaine, but unless you have severe premature ejaculation issues, this may be a circumstance where the “cure” is worse than the condition- these can often numb to the point where sex is barely pleasurable for the wearer, which in turn prevents the kind of tactile feedback necessary to consider the needs of your partner. In our testing, these lubricants end up decreasing pleasure for both participants, as they lead to the kind of, shall we say, intensely repetitive intercourse that might look good in a porn video, but isn’t really enjoyable. That said, for those who truly need some extra time and are still willing to put in the work to satisfy their partner, we’d take the Durex Performax over the Trojans, as they fit better and feature some well-placed studs and dots.
The Condom of The Future
Of all the condoms we tested, we found that we were particularly impressed with the LELO HEX Original Luxury Condoms, from a Swedish brand known for their innovative pleasure toys and general dedication to re-thinking all manner of sexual health products from the ground up. In the case of a condom, this means a design consisting of connected hexagons with ultra-thin surface, but extra strong walls, which both provides a pleasurable sensation similar to ribs but also allows the condom to feel extremely thin while also keeping a strength and grip well beyond normal “ultra-thin” condoms, meaning a minimal risk of tearing or slipping.
They’re pre-treated with a safe and effective lubricant that glides and lasts well, and in our tests at least, our partners overwhelmingly reported that it felt the most natural of any of the options outside of lambskin. As a more “premium” product, they’re not the most budget-conscious item, but if we could only choose one condom to recommend for most people, this would be the one.
Go Have Fun!
Ultimately, the condom that’s right for you will be up to a variety of factors depending on you and your partner and your individual needs, but we hope this provides a good starting point. Don’t ever forget that when practiced responsibly, sex is supposed to be fun, fulfilling, and guilt-free, so get out there and try out some condoms until you find the one that’s right for you. And then maybe try again just to be sure- there’s certainly worse things you could be doing.