9 Types of Condoms You Should Know About
Yes, there are nine.
The condom section at your local drugstore can be overwhelming (understatement of the year, we know). With so many colors, sizes, and shapes, where do you even begin?! The good news is, when it comes down to it, you can't really go wrong. "The best condom on the market is one that you use," says Lauren Streicher, MD, Associate Clinical Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Northwestern University, and author of Sex Rx: Hormones, Health and Your Best Sex Ever ($14; amazon.com). She stresses any time there's skin-to-skin during sex (oral, genital, anal, etc.), you should use a condom to prevent STDs. And of course, when used correctly, they protect against pregnancy 98% of the time. But when the time comes to select your type of rubber, don't stress too much it's all about preference. Here's the lowdown on the nine types of condoms you'll find on store shelves.
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The most common condom, standard latex is a reliable choice to help prevent pregnancy and STDs. But if you notice any itching, redness, or rash after using one, ask your doctor to test you for a latex allergy. "Irritation could also be caused by other factors like lubricant or excessive dryness," says Angela Chaudhari, MD, Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Northwestern University. She suggests looking into those possibilities before you quit latex condoms all together. Trojan Non-Lubricated Latex Condom, 12 ct ($7; amazon.com)
If you do have a latex allergy, there are plenty of alternatives. However, Dr. Chaudhari points out, they're not quite as effective as their latex counterparts. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that non-latex condoms have a higher rate of breakage compared to latex, bringing their effectiveness closer to 95%. What exactly are these alternatives made of? The most common material is polyurethane, but some brands use polyisoprene, nitrile, or lambskin. Lifestyles Skyn Polyisoprene Condoms, 12 ct ($4; amazon.com)
Speaking of lambskin, this type of sheath is probably the most controversial on our list. Thanks to the natural material, some people find lambskin condoms have less of a reduction in sensation than latex condoms, making them better for arousal and pleasure, says Dr. Chaudhari. But with that said, lambskins will not protect against STDs and are not as effective at preventing pregnancy, she points out. That's because the naturally occurring pores in lambskin are large enough to let some viruses (like HIV and herpes) pass right on through. So if the idea of another animal's skin doesn't weird you out and you're aware of the risks, lambskins are a possible (although not quite recommended) option. Trojan NATURALAMB Natural Skin Lubricated Condoms, 3 ct ($17; amazon.com)
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Spermicide, a chemical substance that immobilizes and destroys sperm, is found in multiple forms (jellies, foams, creams, film, or suppositories) and is often combined with a barrier method (in this case, a condom). "I'm still going to tell someone to use backup contraception if the condom breaks, spermicide or not," says Dr. Streicher. The substance is 70% to 80% effective on it's own, but when combined with a condom, that stat jumps to 97%. That's actually a percentage point lower than condoms on their own (it's because there's slight chance spermicide could damage the latex of a condom). You should also be aware it can cause irritation or an allergic reaction, in which case, you're better off sticking with spermicide-free. Trojan Condom Sensitivity Ultra Thin Spermicidal, 12 ct ($6; amazon.com)
We don't hear about female condoms often, most likely because they've shown to be less effective than male condoms due to their difficult placement, says Dr. Chaudhari. The CDCÂ says that the typical use failure rate is 21%. But when used correctly they have 95% success at preventing pregnancy and STDs, making them only slightly less effective than male condoms. If female condoms are your only option, definitely use them, but Dr. Chaudhari advises combining them with another form of birth control, such as the pill or an IUD, for optimal protection against pregnancy. The beauty of this contraception option, Dr. Streicher points out, is it gives women control over their own protection against STDs. Plus, you can insert them up to 8 hours before having sex—which means no need to pause for a condom-break in the heat of the moment. FC Female Condom, 3 ct ($8; amazon.com)
"Lubricated is not only going to be more comfortable, but it's going to decrease the chance that [the condom] is going to break or come off," says Dr. Streicher, since vaginal dryness can cause friction. If you decide to use your own lube, proceed with caution. "Not all lubricants are condom-compatible," says Streicher. Products like baby oil or coconut oil will break down the condom, so stick with water-based or silicone-based lube. Trojan Condom ENZ Lubricated, 12 ct ($6; amazon.com)
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Many people swear by ultra thin latex condoms, touting them as a barrier option that doesn't totally reduce sexy sensations. But does thinner material mean they're more likely to break? Not necessarily. "Most condom failures are from the condom not being used soon enough, or if it rolls off while you're still inside of someone," says Streicher. "That has nothing to do with the type of condom." Durex Extra Sensitive Condoms, 12 ct ($6; amazon.com)
Your friend bought you a whole box of glow-in-the-dark condoms as a joke gift for your birthday, but they're not actually safe to use, right? Turns out novelty condoms are totally fine. Since they're typically made from latex, they're just as effective as your average condom. It all comes down to personal preference; it's not a safety issue, says Streicher. So if you want to turn your partner's business into an iridescent light saber, well, may the force be with you. Night Light Glow in the Dark Latex Condoms, 12 ct ($7; amazon.com)
Similar to novelty condoms, it's all a matter of preference when it comes to flavored. They're just regular latex condoms covered in flavoring, making them equally effective to their non-cherry-infused counterparts. But if you find yourself having a strange reaction down south, skip the added flavoring to see if that's the culprit. GLYDE Premium Organic Flavored Condom Sampler, 10 ct ($11; amazon.com)