A Definitive Guide to Condoms: Because Cost, Material, Shape, and, Yes, Size Matters
Why use a condom?
Most condoms are inexpensive and widely available on the market without requiring a prescription. While there are a wide array of options for contraceptives, condoms are currently the only contraceptive that can prevent both unintended pregnancies and the spread of sexually-transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV—and if this important to you and your partner, it might be an ideal option to use during sexual intercourse or when using sex toys.
Which STIs do condoms help prevent?
According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), condoms can typically prevent the transmission of STIs that are transmitted through genital fluids, including HIV, gonorrhea, chlamydia, and trichomoniasis, for as long as they are worn properly.
Which STIs are condoms less effective against?
It’s important to keep in mind that condoms aren’t 100 percent effective against preventing the spread of certain infections. According to Emily Rymland, DNP FNP-C, a nurse practitioner at Nurx with a focus on HIV care: “Anything outside of where the condom has direct contact is still eligible to be spread regardless of condom use.” Think: herpes, genital warts, and human papillomavirus infection (HPV).
Is (condom) size important?
Selecting a condom that fits is important for safety and comfort. Standard condom sizes usually come in standard, slim, and large options. An appropriately sized condom can enhance pleasure while ensuring safety. Choose the wrong size, and the condom can break if it’s too tight or slip and slide off if it’s too loose.
How to select an appropriately sized condom
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to condoms—and if you or your partner have struggled to find a condom that isn’t too tight or too loose, taking one’s own measurements is one way of ensuring that a condom fits just right. Ideally, the size of a condom will comfortably accommodate the length of an erect penis (measuring from the base to the tip) and the thickest part of the shaft.
According to one condom sizing chart that compares the sizes of several trusted condom brands, slim-fit condoms can measure up 7.5 inches long and up 2 inches wide while standard options measure up to 7.5 inches long and up to 2.1 inches wide, and larger condoms measure up to 9 inches long and up 2.3 inches wide. However, Dr, Rymland says, “Most people fit into an average-size condom or a large one,” adding that it can help to try multiple options on for size. Ultimately, you want something that feels snug, so it won’t slide off during sex, with room at the tip to ejaculate, she says.
What are condoms made of?
Typically, the most common material is latex, however, you will also come across options made of latex alternatives, like polyurethane, polyisoprene, and lambskin, which are ideal if you or your partner have a latex allergy or either of you are sensitive to latex.
According to Dr. Rymland, latex-free alternatives like polyurethane condoms (made of synthetic plastic) and polyisoprene condoms (made of synthetic rubber) aren’t as “smooth” as latex condoms. Both materials, however, protect against the transmission of STIs, while sheepskin condoms, which are made of lamb intestines, do not.
Many people can also experience an adverse reaction to a condom’s lubricant or the additives in a lubricated condom, such as warming or cooling agents—and if you are one of them, you might want to consider using non-lubricated condoms with your own lube.
In addition to these materials, some condoms are also coated in spermicide. Spermicidal condoms often contain nonoxynol-9 (or N-9), a chemical that kills sperm. However, Dr. Rymland warns that spermicidal condoms can irritate sensitive genital tissues, and in the worst-case situations, actually increase the risk of STI exposure should the condom break. What’s more? “If a condom is used properly, you shouldn’t need a spermicide,” says Dr. Rymland.
Are there eco-friendly condoms?
Most condoms that protect against STIs are made with latex or latex alternatives, which are not biodegradable. Coupled with the fact that they’re single-use products, looking for an eco-friendly condom might seem like a pipe dream, especially if you want to make your sex life more sustainable. Luckily, there are options that you can feel better about using.
You can opt to use organic condoms, many of which are made with less harmful chemicals and additives. Just keep in mind that there’s currently no governing body that certifies condoms as “organic.” If you avoid using anything with animal ingredients, you can also find vegan condoms, many of which are also cruelty free. Additionally, there are an increasing number of condom brands that employ Fair Trade Certified practices.
16 common types of condoms
Ahead, find 16 common types of condoms, their pros and cons, and recommendations for each:
1. Lubricated condoms
- Ready to use out of the box
- Some might be sensitive or allergic to the condom’s lubricant
These condoms come pre-lubricated to lessen friction and increase pleasure for everyone involved. Lubricated condoms can also contain other agents, like warming or cooling agents to promote a tingling sensation.
These latex condoms from Lifestyles are coated in a water-soluble lubricant containing glycerin that promises more slip and slide. Bonus: A 50-pack will set you back just $11.
2. Non-lubricated condoms
- Ideal if you’re sensitive or allergic to lubricants used in most condoms
- Should be used with a separate lubricant
If you or your partner are sensitive or allergic to lubricants used in most condoms, you might prefer using a non-lubricant option. Just keep in mind that this option must be used with lube so as to prevent breakage.
Another latex option, only without the lube, these condoms offer you and your partner full control over which lubricant you want to use. They’re sold in a pack of five with three condoms per pack.
3. Latex condoms
- Accessible and affordable
- Unsuitable for people who have a latex allergy or are sensitive to latex
Condoms made of latex, a material sourced from natural rubber, are usually widely accessible and affordable. They are, however, unsuitable for people who are sensitive or allergic to latex, which can lead to symptoms that range from mild to severe.
Simple and straightforward, these latex condoms from Trojan are pre-lubricated for comfortable pleasure. One pack comes with 36 individually-packed condoms, making this pick budget-friendly, too.
4. Latex-alternative condoms
- Ideal for people with latex allergies
- Not as “smooth”
If you’re allergic to latex, you might want to consider using a condom made of a latex alternative, such as polyurethane and polyisoprene. Polyurethane condoms are made of plastic, while polyisoprene condoms are made of synthetic rubber—both materials protect against the transmission of STIs.
Made with odor-free polyurethane, these latex-free condoms from Trojan claim to be 40 percent thinner than your average rubbers, making them ideal for increasing sensation. As a plus, the condoms are pre-lubricated. Shop ‘em in a pack of six.
Another latex-free variation, SKYN’s condoms are made of polyisoprene. With their ultra-thin design, they’re made to increase pleasure, as well as comfort, thanks to the fact that they already comes pre-lubricated. What’s more, the condoms are available in three sizes—regular (as pictured above), large, and extra-large. The pack comes with 36 condoms and with a 4.6-star overall rating on Amazon after more than 29,000 reviews.
5. Lambskin condoms
- Suitable for people sensitive or allergic to latex
- Can’t prevent the transmission of STIs
Lambskin condoms are made of the membrane of sheep intestines, and they are considered another latex alternative. Dr. Rymland calls it the “original condom,” and while she mentions that it can prevent unintended pregnancies, it cannot prevent the spread of STIs.
These lambskin condoms are another alternative to latex varieties, though it’s only ideal if you and your partner aren’t concerned about the exposure to STIs. While it can’t offer the level of protection that other options on the list might afford you, Amazon reviewers love it for its skin-like feel. For under $9, you’ll receive a pack of three individually-wrapped condoms.
6. Organic condoms
- Often contains less chemicals and additives in its ingredients list
- There’s currently no governing body to certify any condom as organic
If you want to steer clear of unwanted chemicals and additives, consider organic condoms, which are made with fewer ingredients. However, as mentioned earlier, there’s currently no governing agency to certify condoms as “organic”—which is something to keep in mind as you shop.
Free of glycerin, parabens, and harmful chemicals, Maude’s condoms are a worthy pick. They’re made with 100 percent natural latex, cornstarch, and a silicone-based lubricant as their primary ingredients. What’s more? They ingredients are vegan-friendly, too. Shop the condoms in two options, including a plus-sized variation.
7. Vegan condoms
- Made without animal ingredients
- Often more costly
If you avoid consuming, wearing, or using products with animal ingredients, you might appreciate the existence of vegan condoms. As a plus, you can also find options are cruelty-free, which means that they are made without animal testing.
These condoms from woman-owned brand Glyde aren’t just made without animal ingredients (or glycerin, parabens, or harmful chemicals, for that matter), they also adhere to cruelty-free practices. While a pack of 12 condoms will cost you $17, it might be well worth the investment if you’re looking for condoms that are better for your body and the planet in the long run. The FDA- and CE-approved condoms are available in three sizes: standard (as pictured above), slim, and large.
8. Fair Trade Certified condoms
- Prioritize sustainable practices and prioritizes workers
- Also more expensive
If you are particular about how condoms—or any product, for that matter—are made, you might want to consider purchasing condoms that are made in accordance with Fair Trade Certified practices.
Sustain prides itself in creating condoms from natural latex that are made in a Fair Rubber Certified plantation. They are also FSC Certified, which verifies that their products are sourced from responsibly managed forests. Not just wonderful for the planet, the condoms are also made without animal ingredients and potentially harmful nitrosamine. They are available in the Ultra-Thin version pictured above, as well as Tailored Fit, Comfort Fit, and XL.
9. Delay condoms
- Prolongs intercourse
- Unsuitable for those sensitive to desensitizing agents, like benzocaine or lidocaine
Delay condoms usually contain benzocaine or lidocaine, which according to Searah Deysach, a sex educator and the owner of Early To Bed, are “ingredients that can desensitize the penis which can delay ejaculation.”
The interior of these lubricated latex condoms contain benzocaine to delay the climax—and, in turn, prolong sex. They’re sold in a pack of 12.
10. Extended pleasure condoms
- Made for longer-lasting sex
- Don’t offer a skin-like feel
“For people who want to avoid numbing ingredients [in delay condoms], using a thicker condom may provide a similar effect without desensitization,” says Deysach. Also known as extended pleasure condoms, these are another option that can promise longer-lasting sex.
If you and your partner want to steer clear of desensitizing agents, you can also consider a thicker condom like these ones. The lubricated condoms are made of latex that is 90 micrometers thick. Plus, they’re cheap. For under $12, you’ll receive a 48-pack.
11. Thin or ultra-thin condoms
- Increased sensation
- Might be unsuitable if you want prolong sex
On the other side of the spectrum, you can find thin or ultra-thin condoms, which are ideal if you and your partner want to increase sensation. While they might be thinner than the average, this doesn’t mean they are more prone to breakage.
While many condoms are made ultra-thin, these lubricated latex prophylactics are what Deysach recommends if you are looking for an option with a skin-like feel. Shop them in a pack of three for under $9.
12. Textured or ribbed condoms
- Increase pleasure during intercourse
- Might lead to unwanted friction for some
“Ribbed or textured condoms can provide a little more sensation for both partners and can increase pleasure,” says Deysach. The raised studs, dots, or ridges can be located on the outside and/or the inside of the condom.
Ribbed and dotted all over, these latex condoms are made to please.They’re also on the thinner side to enhance the sensation for everyone involved and lubricated with a water-based formula to keep things comfortable.
13. Extra-Headroom Condoms
- More comfort for the wearer
- Comes in an atypical shape that might not appeal to everyone
Another condom that can turn up the pleasure are ones made with extra headroom. With wider tips, these can provide more comfort for the person wearing it while creating more (pleasant) friction for everyone involved.
These condoms come with the recommendation with Deysach, who says their ‘baggier’ tips can increase pleasure for the wearer. “It results in more friction on the user’s frenulum,” she says. They’re made out of latex and coated in a silicone-based lubricant. One thing to keep in mind is that they’re sold per piece at $0.70 each.
14. Flavored condoms
- Can make oral sex more pleasurable
- Certain flavors or additives might be unsuitable for sensitive genital areas
Flavored condoms can literally sweeten the pleasure, and they’re offered in flavors ranging from strawberry to mint and chocolate. While there are many options that are still artificially flavored, you can also find options that use natural ingredients.
With Glyde’s tasty assortment pack, you won’t have to commit to any one flavor. It includes blueberry, strawberry, wildberry, licorice, and vanilla-flavored condoms, and you’ll receive a total of 12 individually-wrapped condoms with your purchase. You might also appreciate that the lubricated latex condoms leave out artificial flavors, additives, and harmful chemicals.
15. Internal condoms
- Only one FDA-approved option available on the market
Unlike external condoms, internal condoms are inserted into the vagina or anus, and they have a 79 percent effectiveness rate (which is 8 percent less than external varieties) but they can likewise prevent unwanted pregnancies and the transmission of STIs. Currently, there is only one FDA-approved option available in the US.
16. Dental dams
- Ideal for oral sex
- Not ideal for sexual intercourse or sex toys
Another option that Dr. Rymland calls out are dental dams, which are thin sheets that can be placed over the vulva or anus to prevent the spread of STIs from the genitals to the mouth. While these are readily available for purchase, Dr. Rymland says Saran Wrap could come in clutch.
Using lubricant with condoms
If you plan on using your own lubricant, consider using a water-soluble lubricant. “[Using] water soluble lubricants are safe for condoms,” says Dr. Rymland. However, if you prefer using an oil-based lubricant, keep in mind that it won’t play well with latex condoms (the condom will break). In any case, Dr. Rymland considers lubricant as a must when it comes to condom usage. “It’s super critical that there’s always enough lubricant on a condom,” she says. “Lubricants prevent tearing.”
How to safely store condoms
Keep it away from extreme heat or cold
According to Dr. Rymland, condoms are susceptible to damage from extreme heat or cold. “They should be in places that have a consistent temperature that’s like room temperature,” she says.
Just as importantly, avoid using a condom past its expiration date
Another pro tip from Dr. Rymland? Pay close attention to a condom’s expiration date because past its prime, a condom is more prone to breakage.
FAQs about condoms
How long do condoms last?
Condoms can last anywhere from one to five years, depending on the material and for as long as you know how to store condoms properly. In any case, it’s important to be mindful of its expiration date to be sure, which you’ll find listed on the package.
Can you use two condoms for double the protection?
Put it plainly and simply, no. “You’re just rubbing two textures together that aren’t supposed to be rubbed,” says Dr. Rymland, “What happens is the friction from one condom actually tears the other condom.”
What are the most trusted condom brands?
Trojan, Durex, and Lifestyles are a few trusted condom brands that Dr. Rymland recommends, though she says anything that is FDA-approved is fair game.
How can I talk to my partner about using a condom?
If you want to talk to your partner about condom usage, Deysach says that honesty is the best policy. “Tell your partner why using condoms is important to you and find out why they are resistant. It can take trying a few different brands for people to find ones they like, but that should not stop you from protecting yourself against pregnancy and STIs. It is also perfectly okay to make condom use a requirement to having sex with you,” says Deysach.
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