Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Condoms

By Dr. Jess Sexual Health

Condoms for Everyone

Safer sex is hotter sex, and condoms are likely a part of your safer sex routine — alongside open communication, lube, additional forms of birth control (e.g., IUD), and regular testing.

You have a range of options when it comes to condoms — in terms of size, material, features, and whether you opt for an internal or external version. External condoms cover the penis, and internal condoms (sometimes called female condoms) are worn internally in the vagina or anus.

Latex condoms are the most widely available and affordable option in most cases. They stretch well and are appropriate for those without latex allergies. You’ll find a variety of options made of latex, including thin ones, thicker ones (for ejaculatory control), ribbed versions (for partner pleasure), flavored options, and those with various types of lube (e.g., warming, arousing, desensitizing).

Polyurethane condoms can feel thinner than latex and thus facilitate feelings of greater sensitivity. They’re often the choice for those with latex allergies and are considered less form-fitting, making lube a must! Some research has suggested that polyurethane is more likely to break or slip (versus latex), but the experts suggest that this difference is not statistically significant.

Polyisoprene condoms are made of synthetic latex. They’re just as strong as latex condoms (without the allergens) and are more form-fitting and, therefore, more resistant to breakage/slippage than polyurethane. They are a bit thicker, so some people report reduced sensitivity (which can be both wanted and unwanted, depending on your preference).

Lambskin condoms are made from the thin membrane of a lamb’s intestine. They’re not as effective at preventing pregnancy and do not offer protection against STIs (sexually transmitted infections).

Now, let’s go over how to use condoms correctly.

To use an external condom: Open the condom wrapper carefully and be sure not to tear it with your teeth or fingernails. (Keep extra condoms on hand in case of breakage while opening.) Leave a little space at the top of the condom and roll it gently down all the way to the bottom of the shaft.

Internal condoms (also marketed as “female” condoms) are made of nitrile (a soft plastic), and they slide inside the vagina to create a barrier between the vaginal canal and any inserted object (e.g., sex toy, penis, finger, tongue). They have a removable internal ring along the closed side that sits internally and an external ring that remains on the outside against the labia.

To use an internal condom: Open the condom carefully to avoid tears. Add more lube if you’d like. Squeeze together the sides of the internal ring at the sealed end of the condom and insert it into the vagina. (If you’re inserting into your anus, remove the internal ring and use your finger to push it inside). Ensure that the external ring is on the outside before inserting the object of your choice as you hold the external portion in place.

Condoms and Lube

Use a lube that is condom tested per ASTM condom compatibility guidelines as laid out by the FDA. All of Astroglide’s lubricants undergo this testing. Keep in mind that different lubes are compatible with different condoms. For example:

Oil-based lubes, and lotions are not designed to be used with condoms and can weaken latex, causing it to break. Do not use Vaseline, baby oil, coconut, or other body lotions that contain oil as lubricant on the condom.

How to Use Condoms Correctly:

  1. Make sure you check the expiration date of your condom.
    • Latex condoms generally last for an average of five years after the manufacture date, BUT this can vary with lubrication and spermicide. Rather than calculating how long they’ll last, it’s best to look at the expiration date printed on the package. Storage is key — if they’re stored near heat or bright light, this can shorten their shelf life.
    • While using an expired condom is likely better than using no condom at all, some of the risks associated with expired condoms include:
      • Higher risk of breakage (they lose strength and flexibility)
      • Increased risk of STI transmission and pregnancy
      • Spermicide loses its potency
      • Latex and lubricant can dry out
      • Irritated skin
  1. Practice (and taking your time) makes perfect.
    • If you don’t take the time to properly apply a condom, it can increase the risk of slippage or breakage.
  1. Store your condoms in a happy place. Condoms should be kept in a cool, dry place. If you keep them in your wallet or in your car, the heat can compromise the integrity of the material and increase the likelihood of breakage.
  2. Use one at a time. Don’t double up; one is enough. The friction between two condoms can cause breakage. This rule also applies to combining an external condom (the kind that fits over the penis) with an internal condom (which is worn inside the vagina or anus) – only use one condom.
  3. Find the perfect fit! Research suggests that wearing condoms that don’t fit correctly is associated with breakage, slippage, irritation, reduced pleasure, erectile issues, dryness, and difficulty reaching orgasm (for both partners).
  4. If a condom breaks and you’re concerned about pregnancy, you can consider emergency contraception. Emergency contraception works most effectively if you take it right away, but it can also be taken up to five days later. You have several options, and accessibility depends on where you’re located. Options include the insertion of a ParaGard IUD, a pill with ulipristal acetate, which requires a prescription, or a pill with levonorgestrel which you can purchase at the pharmacy without a prescription.
    • Here is a quiz to help you figure out what emergency contraception is right for you.

If a condom breaks and you’re concerned about STI transmission, see a health practitioner right away to discuss your risk and options. If there is reason to believe you have been exposed to HIV, you can discuss PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis) as an emergency measure within three days of exposure.

condom in hand

Photo by Dainis Graveris on SexualAlpha