There are a bunch of options when it comes to safer sex practices: birth control pills, latex barriers, and IUDs to name a few. Of the many options, condoms are arguably the most commonly used barrier method, praised for their relative affordability, their portability, and their ability to minimize the risk of unplanned pregnancy. Most significantly, condoms are the only type of birth control that help protect against STIs during penetration!
That said, condoms are only effective when used correctly, so the first step to condom use is picking the right one. But with so many colors, shapes, sizes, and flavors—how do you choose? Condom selection is the frozen yogurt bar of the sexual world! Need some help with the menu? Here’s a handy guide to walk you through it:
Choose Your Condom Style: Internal Or External?
There are two styles of condom: external condoms and internal condoms. Deciding between these is the foundation of your condom experience. They are similar in many ways: accessibility, cost, and effectiveness at pregnancy and STI protection. Your choice between these two options depends on who will be wearing the condom.
When folks talk about condoms, they are typically referring to the external condom. External condoms cover the surface of penetrative objects, such as a penis or a sex toy. They come in many varieties, making them versatile options for sexual scenarios.
Condoms are the only type of birth control that help protect against STIs.
Internal condoms are meant to be placed inside a vaginal canal or anus to offer a barrier of protection during intercourse. Although insertion can take some getting used to, they can also be convenient, as the internal condom can be inserted up to eight hours before sexual activity, so there’s no need to pause to go get your condom.
Decide What’s Inside: Choose Your Condom Materials
Now that you’ve decided on your basic style of choice, take a moment to consider what materials your condoms are made of. External condoms are typically made of either rubber (latex), or plastic (nitrile, polyurethane, or polyisoprene). All internal condoms are made from a thin plastic called nitrile.
Latex is the thickest of these materials, making it least susceptible to breaking. It is also most easily found, and the most researched. While most people can use latex condoms without side effects, some people do have allergies to latex. If you know or suspect your partner may have an allergy, consider plastic options instead. Because plastic condoms are thinner, an added benefit is that they allow more of the sensations to be felt.
While most people can use latex condoms without side effects, some people do have allergies to latex.
Check the ingredients list to be sure that the condom doesn’t contain other common allergens and irritants. What you should be watching for are perfumes, dyes, and nonoxynol-9—which is a compound found in spermicide.
Choose Your Condom Size: Bigger Isn’t Better
After putting it on incorrectly, one of the biggest reasons that condoms can be ineffective is when they are the wrong size for the wearer. Condoms are marketed as one size fits all, but especially in the case of external condoms, the fit is extremely important. So what size do you choose?
If the condom is too tight, it will not only be uncomfortable for the person wearing it, but it is likely to break, eliminating its ability to do its job of protection. If it is too loose, it may fall off.
The celebrity of the Trojan Magnum has lured many people into making the purchase without considering the risks of a poor fit. But if a condom is too loose, it may fall off. And if the condom is too tight, it will not only be uncomfortable for the person wearing it, but it is likely to break, eliminating its ability to do its job of protection.
To be safe, measure the length and girth of the penis or toy before condom shopping (try using a piece of dental floss to measure circumference). Then when you are looking at the condom package, check to see which sizes it is intended to fit. If there is no size information listed, condoms are generally crafted to fit lengths of 6.5 to 8.5 inches.
Internal condoms are both wider and longer than external condoms, so there is more breathing room overall, and because of the way they work there is little risk of slipping off or coming out.
Dress It Up: Accessorize And Experiment With Condom Styles
Just like when you’re at a frozen yogurt bar, external condoms allow you to customize your selection. You can add lube, ribbing, colors, or some temperature-play in the form of warming or cooling condoms. They can be flavored, which can be fun for oral play, or something a little quirkier, like glow-in-the-dark. What are you in the mood for?
Something to keep in mind is that even if you opt for a lubricated condom, it would be wise to have some lube handy: Some people feel irritation or from the friction of condoms, so lube helps keep things comfortable and pleasure-filled!
Lube helps keep things comfortable and pleasure-filled!
All in all, think about what you enjoy, and always ask your partners what they like as well to be sure that everyone has a pleasant experience. And always check the expiration dates of condoms and make sure they haven’t been opened, used, or exposed to a lot of heat or friction, in order to minimize the risk of breaks and tears.