Thinking back to my teenage years, I remember having anxiety about using male condoms for the first time. Sure, I’d seen a sex educator demonstrate how to put one on a banana, and I knew from the comprehensive sex education in my public school health class that condoms are 85 percent effective when used consistently and correctly. But I had read somewhere about a person accidentally putting a condom on inside-out, causing it to stretch and then break. I became convinced that when the time came, I’d be confused about the correct way to unroll a condom, it would rip, and I’d accidentally get pregnant.
Well, that was a lot of worry for nothing: I quickly learned that condoms just roll down a penis like a sock. Once I had that skill down, it was time to pay attention to a more urgent issue: what would condoms feel like for me?
And the answer was … not great.
The phrase “sandwich bag” comes to mind. Even with lots of personal lubricant, the latex condoms that I first used felt like being probed with something rubbery. While I loved the male partner (a boyfriend) with whom I had sex for the first time, I remember feeling underwhelmed — disappointed, even — by how vaginal intercourse felt.
Over time, I began to experiment with other types of male condoms and found ones that felt so much better inside me: Condoms that had a thinner surface, which didn’t feel like such a barrier between my skin and my partner’s skin. They provided the same protection from unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, but let me feel my male partners inside my vagina in a way that felt more intimate.
Curious about how condoms felt for other people, I asked 7 people if they could share what using a condom really feels like for them. It turns out, I’m not alone in preferring thinner latex condoms to regular ones (and preferring other forms of birth control to condoms!).
Here are 7 takes on what using a condom actually feels like:
“Put your hand in a bowl of Jell-O. Now do it again wearing a latex glove. That’s the difference.” — David*, 41, heterosexual
“People talked about how condoms minimized sensation for dudes, but I had never heard anyone talk about how the male condom affected women’s experience of sex. Oh, but it does! The difference was like night and day. I couldn’t believe how much better sex felt without a condom; how much easier it was for me to come; how much more fun it was to be able to switch positions and play around without worrying that the condom might come off or break. Part of the improvement might be because I finally felt safe enough in a relationship to trust my partner not to infect me with an STI. … Knowing what I know now, I think it’s very possible to have really good sex while using a condom — but it means thinking about the other things that make up sexy times besides penis-in-vag. Most of the guys I hooked up with back then didn’t spend much time on foreplay — we were all in our late teens/early 20s, and they were clueless college dudes who really didn’t know how to find a clitoris — and I was still figuring out my own body, still figuring out what felt good to me. I felt comfortable asking a guy to wear a condom, but I didn’t feel comfortable asking him to go down on me before sex, or to go slower, or to go harder. I recognize now that I lacked the confidence in myself to believe that I deserved all available pleasure in a context of safety.” — Marni*, 40, queer woman married to cis man
“A condom usually feels less intense and less pleasurable, but not that much less. The issues are less about sensation and more about the administrative hassle of having one when you want it and the interruption of putting it on. Basically, sex with a condom is slightly worse than sex without one — but a lot better than no sex. Last time I was regularly using condoms, I bought Trojan Pure Ecstasy, which are a thin kind, ribbed a little at the base but otherwise smooth. Initially, I bought them randomly, but kept buying them because they gave a good sensation, plus they had the foil-style packaging that rips more consistently than the plastic kind.” — Nicholas*, 35, heterosexual
“I would say [wearing a condom] feels...smooth? Other than that, it didn't feel like much of anything. It almost feels invisible, and it certainly doesn’t get in the way of sex feeling good. On an emotional level, it makes sex so much more fun for me. I can focus on enjoying my partner instead of worrying about getting pregnant or an STD. I tend toward being anxious, so that is such a relief for me. What has surprised me most is how little I feel it during sex and that it actually adds to the mood. If you aren't sure what to expect, trust: putting on the condom can totally be foreplay. [The first time,] I was nervous that it would take us out of the moment, but, instead, pausing to put it on became an extra turn-on because it signaled what was coming next.”— Claire, 27, heterosexual
“My only real preference is ribbed. Could be in my imagination, but I feel the friction better. Trojan ribbed is my preference. Just an earthier feeling that never lets you lose sight of what you're doing.” — Jason*, 33, “mostly straight”
“I normally use the Skyn condoms because they're non-latex. I've tried different versions of thin and sensitive, but I also have a latex sensitivity and am prone to irritation and imbalances, so I tried a bunch of different brands before I realized the most important thing was avoiding latex and keeping high-quality lube around at all times. Non-latex condoms tend to feel like there's less friction and more give, so I worry less about breaking them if we changed positions or move around a lot. Try out a lot of different kinds of condoms! It took me longer than it should have to figure out that I was having a bad reaction to something and not just having a lackluster experience, and I dealt with a lot of unnecessary discomfort!” — Mary*, 37, “essentially straight”
“When I put a condom on the first time, it was kinda like putting on a fitted sheet. I kept putting them on the wrong way! Even as an adult, I would still put them on the wrong way, which I can laugh about now. (Condom makers should make an arrow to let the person know the correct way to put it on!) At first, condoms were tight, but I figured that was the way they should feel. But when I started dating a nurse, she realized my struggles with putting them on were because of the snug fit. She got me the larger size, which is the right fit for me. (Plus, the regular-cut condoms numbed the sensation for me.) I’ve used the Trojan Magnum Thin the most. The fit is much better because of my width; however, I really do like the Durex Invisible Ultra Thin. I find that it works so well I forget that I'm wearing one.” — Matt*, 34, heterosexual
These days, I’ve found condoms that feel comfortable enough for me. While using a condom doesn’t feel as great as going without, it’s well worth the peace of mind for preventing pregnancy and STDs. Mary summed up many condom user’s experiences really well — it’s not really about the condom.
“I've had great sex with condoms and terrible sex without them,” she told me. “Adding a thin barrier into the mix won't cause problems if there's plenty of lubrication and penetrative sex isn't the only focus.”
*name has been changed