What’s the best way to choose a condom?
Determine your size first. The “Find Your Size” page on Lucky Bloke is a helpful guide.
Then, consider material. Most condoms are made of latex, a material that is generally safe and can be made quite thin, making it especially suitable for condoms. However, it’s a no-go for people with latex sensitivities, and it can’t be used safely with oil-based lubes, which break down latex. Other popular condom materials include polyurethane and polyisoprene. Lambskin or so-called “natural” condoms prevent pregnancy but do not prevent STI transmission, so keep that in mind while shopping.
The lubrication of condoms is an important factor. Generally, condoms are lubricated with silicone-based lube, so if you want to use yours on a silicone sex toy (which can be damaged by silicone lubes), look for an unlubricated condom and add your own water-based lube, or choose a condom that uses water-based lube. Likewise, if you’re using condoms for oral sex, you may prefer an unlubricated condom, depending on how you feel about the taste of lube. People who are allergic to silicone should also look for unlubricated condoms or ones lubricated with water-based lube.
Some people enjoy “gimmicky” styles of condoms, like those textured with dots or ribs to stimulate the receiving partner, or those that use warming or tingling lubes to provide a unique sensation.
I didn’t include these in this guide because most of the experts I spoke to felt that these types of condoms are either uninteresting or flat-out uncomfortable to use. However, if they pique your interest, feel free to give them a shot.
How do I determine what size condom I need?
As Melissa White, condom expert, and CEO of condom retail site Lucky Bloke points out, sizing is a big issue in the world of condoms. Lucky Bloke’s “Find Your Size” page is helpful in determining whether you need a large or small size, or if standard-sized condoms will work for you. White has done international surveys involving up to 5,000 different condom testers, and she estimates that “standard-fit” condoms work for about 50% of users, while 35% need a snugger fit and 15-20% need a larger fit.
Too-big condoms can move around, bunch up, or slide off altogether, while too-small condoms can feel uncomfortably restrictive and may break more easily, so it’s important to use condoms that fit your penis well.
“Girth is the more relevant factor,” White says; “there’s a little bit more give when it comes to length.” Many condom manufacturers list the length and girth of their condoms on their website, along with the thickness of the material.
What’s the proper way to put on a condom?
Yonah Krakowsky, MD, a urologist and sexual medicine surgeon at Women’s College Hospital and surgeon-educator at the University of Toronto, advises that you make sure the package is intact before you open it, pinch the tip of the condom before putting it on to get rid of any air bubbles that could cause breakage during ejaculation, and roll it all the way down to the base of the penis.
If you think you know how to put on a condom correctly, consider this: A 2017 study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that nearly 7% of women said in the last month, they had a condom break or completely fall off during sex or withdrawal. That not only compromises the condom’s effectiveness at preventing pregnancy and STDs, but it’s also mostly avoidable.
The CDC also notes that it’s important to check your condoms’ expiry dates regularly (and throw them away when they expire), and to store condoms in a cool, dry place. Most condoms expire after about 3-5 years if stored properly.
Using lube with condoms reduces friction that can cause breakage and also significantly boosts pleasure for both partners, according to White. “Don’t put lube inside a condom that’s too big for you, because it’ll slide off,” she advises, “but if it fits, a drop of lube inside the condom will increase pleasure.”
Her top pick is Uberlube, a silky-smooth silicone-based lubricant with an enthusiastic fanbase, but any silicone-based or water-based lube will do. Just don’t use oil-based lubes (such as coconut oil) with latex condoms, because oil can break down latex, compromising the safety of your condom. (Some non-latex condom materials, such as polyurethane, can be used safely with oil-based lubes, however.)
How effective are condoms at preventing STIs and pregnancy?
Here’s a brief “condoms 101”: These penile sheaths work to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, and trichomoniasis. According to Planned Parenthood, condoms have average effectiveness of 85%, which means that pregnancy will occur for 15 of every 100 couples who use condoms as their sole form of birth control for an entire year.
However, that effectiveness rate rises to 98% when condoms are applied and used “perfectly.” Studies show that some of the most common condom errors include not squeezing the air out of the condom’s reservoir tip during the application, not using enough (or any) lubrication, and rolling the condom on the wrong way.