While we all might be curious about the best plunger or probiotic tampon or cold-sore remedy, it can be difficult to discuss these more personal items. That’s why we’re tackling Things We Don’t Talk About, a series in which we track down the best hygiene-, sex-, and bodily function–related things we all need but might be too embarrassed to ask about. Today, recommendations on the best condoms (just in time for Valentine’s Day).
For many, condom shopping has long meant a surreptitious visit to the “family planning” aisle of the drug store, where you choose between standard-issue Trojans and standard-issue Lifestyles, and hope you don’t bump into a co-worker. Now, there’s not only online shopping, but also a burgeoning market of new condom brands meant to accommodate a wider range of bodies, preferences, and allergies. But with new options can come confusion, so we talked to sex therapists and educators, sex workers, sex writers, and even the hosts of a sex podcast. Each product here can be bought (discreetly — perhaps not on the shared family Amazon Prime account?) online.
The best-in-show condoms
Several of our experts brought up Skyn non-latex condoms. Porn actor Brett Rossi is, like many, allergic to latex, and says Skyn (made by Lifestyles) is best for managing reactions. It’s estimated (by the American Latex Allergy Association) that only around one percent of the general population has a real allergy, but many still report some kind of reaction. But beyond that, non-latex condoms also get better marks for pairing with lubricant and for allowing more sensation. Emily Morse, who hosts a sex-and-relationships podcast, attributes that to their heat transference. “The best part is that the polyisoprene material transfers heat really well, so they feel very natural,” she says. Nicole Tammelleo, a sex therapist, says that while polyisoprene was previously thought of as just a latex alternative, it’s actually stretchier than latex and many actually find it to provide more sensation. The $12 price tag here is for a 24-pack.
The best eco-friendly condoms
Sustain Naturals are ultrathin latex condoms that are lubricated on both sides. Emily Nagoski, author of Come As You Are: The Surprising New Science That Will Transform Your Sex Life, says, “They’re conscious of environmental impact, fair trade, and work great.” They are also vegan, gluten-free, paraben-free, and Goop–approved (if you prefer to get it on like Gwyneth). Sex and relationship coach Dominique D’Vita adds that the brand is “vagina-friendly and Earth-friendly. They donate 10 percent of your purchase to women’s health organizations”, making Sustain Naturals the most sustainable, conscientious condom at an affordable price point.
The fanciest condoms
Direct-to-consumer brand Maude was famously decreed “the Everlane of sex toys” not too long ago. Reviewing their vibrator, writer Margaret Rhodes wrote that the “cool, placid design makes a deliberate point: Carnal pleasure doesn’t need to be raunchy, gendered, or silly.” The Rise condoms are no exception and have the same understated, well thought-out design we’ve come to expect. They feature an easy-to-open buttercup packaging in a minimalist cream palette, so the days of fumbling for and ripping open condom wrappers are over. These are inconspicuous enough to leave out on your nightstand. And these condoms aren’t just easy on the eyes. D’Vita says the ultrathin latex has an incredibly natural feel allowing for more sensation and heat transference.
Eliminate ever having to make a last-minute dash to the pharmacy with Lola’s subscription-based, hassle-free condoms. They will deliver a box (or more) of condoms every four to eight weeks so you can be sure to stay stocked up. Sex and love writer Maria Del Russo loves them: “Lola is super transparent about how they make their condoms, and these are free of chemicals and other yucky things. And if you’re putting something in my vagina, I’d prefer to know what’s on it.” We couldn’t agree more.
The best condoms for oral sex
Many of our experts agreed that Glyde ($5 for four) flavored condoms were the way to go, here. Not only are they vegan, but “Glyde condoms are made with actual food extracts, not chemical fakery,” sex educator Dr. Carol Queen says. Tammelleo agrees, “You never want [regular] lubricated condoms for oral sex, as it will make the gag reflex kick in.” As for flavors, professional dominatrix Domina Colette recommends vanilla, while London-based sex worker Louisa Knight is a big fan of the wild-berry flavor, but also suggests people try out their sampler pack to find which they like best.
The best condoms for anal sex
With anal sex, make sure you’re never using any products (that goes for condoms and lube) with numbing qualities. The consensus here is, you need to be able to feel everything so that you can listen to your body. Knight votes for Durex Invisible (comes in a 32-pack here), the thinnest product the company makes, as these let you feel everything fully. Queen also adds that these condoms are super thin and extra lubricated (a plus with anal), making them perfect for this kind of activity.
The best internal condoms
According to queer adult film performer Jiz Lee, “The F2C is an underrated barrier, worn internally — vaginally or anally — with a bit of lip on the outside of the body that can protect against skin-to-skin contact in ways regular, ‘external’ condoms cannot. They can be worn for long periods of time and allow for versatile sex.” Dana Hamilton, sex columnist for Playboy and author of sex-positive travel blog “Eat, Drive, F*ck” also adds that the outer lip is great for sensation as well as safety: “When used during vaginal penetration, the outer ring rests against the clitoris, which, in turn, helps provide more clitoral stimulation during intercourse.” While these were previously referred to as “female condoms”, the FDA recently renamed them “internal condoms” as they can be worn both vaginally and anally by users of all genders.
Editor’s Note: While the FC2 internal condoms are expensive to buy online, they are also available via prescription.
The best condoms for premature ejaculation
For people who deal with premature ejaculation (and no longer want to) Philippe Côté-Léger, founder of Premature Ejaculation Help suggests condoms coated with a desensitizing benzocaine solution. The liquid solution is the same topical anesthetic found in over-the-counter products for sore throats and earaches, and reduces penile sensation by numbing the glans and foreskin of the penis. Both Trojan and Durex offer benzocaine delay condoms, he says, with just slightly different amounts of benzocaine (Trojan Extended Pleasure has a 4 percent solution; Durex Performax Intense and Durex Prolong have 5 percent). Knight says that with the Durex Prolong in particular, the numbing gel inside these condoms is great at helping a person last, but subtle enough to not eliminate all sensation.
The best condoms for quickies
First off, yes: A well-executed quickie calls for a different condom than regular at-home take-your-time sex. Think of this as the counterpart to the best condoms for premature ejaculators. “You want a thin and comfy condom that lets you get down to it,” Queen says. “A thick condom might slow you down, which is good in some cases, maybe, but not for quickies. A partner’s pleasure is important if you’re ramping up the action quickly.” For this, she and Knight recommend the Vanish Hyperthins from One, a newer company with a goal of making a broader spectrum of kinds of condoms. You’ll be able to feel everything, they say, and there’s just the right amount of lube.
The best condoms for a perfect fit
Finding the right condom size makes them more comfortable, but also safer. “Wearing the wrong size can make accidents more likely — when a condom is too large, it’s more likely to come off during sex,” Knight says. Because of this, people who rely solely on condoms may want to look into a custom-fit condom from myOne Perfect Fit. Instead of using uniform small, medium, and large sizes, myONE factors in differing widths at each size. Users take their own measurements, enter them online, and get one of 60 tailored sizes. Mia Davis from Tabú calls myONE the Goldilocks of condoms.
Hamilton says that Unique Condoms are “the best condoms you’ve never heard of.” She cautions that while there is a slight learning curve — as these are pull-on instead of roll-on — they are worth the extra effort. They are made with a polyethylene synthetic resin which is three times stronger and thinner than regular latex and is compatible with all lubricants. Their packaging is also truly inspired: each compact, credit card shaped package contains three (!) condoms that you can throw in your bag or wallet. They also come in sizes Pull, Plus, and SecureFit to accommodate various lengths and sizes. Hamilton says that “every condom company boasts, ‘It feels like nothing’s there!,’ but in this case, it’s actually true.”
The best condoms for a snug fit
Davis and Sloane agree that Iron Grip is the best choice here. Davis says that the snugger fit means you can focus more on your pleasure without worrying about readjusting, and Sloane adds that these are also super thin, so you don’t have to sacrifice sensation for safety. And if you need any more convincing: These were also famously endorsed here on the Strategist by HQ host Scott Rogowsky, who said using them is like “going from JNCOs to skinny jeans.”
The best condoms for extra sensitivity
The Pleasure Plus condom sports a smaller pouch near the tip, and the function is twofold: Sloane explains that the underside of the penis responds to friction better than pressure, so a condom that is more bulbous offers more opportunities for these sensations than traditional tighter-head condoms. Queen concurs and says that with big-headed condoms, the penile head is stroked by the condom, and enhanced sensation is the result. It’s also reportedly more comfortable for uncircumcised wearers, as the pouch allows the foreskin to move during sex, while still offering protection. Internal ribs add yet another layer of excitement, and as Davis points out, the added latex of the ribbed pouch can also rub against skin for increased clitoral stimulation.
The Crown condom’s tagline is “the closest thing to nothing at all.” And according to our experts, the product more than lives up to its promise. Kelly Shibari, who has worked in the adult film industry for over a decade as a performer, model, publicist, and social media marketer, calls them the “official ‘porn’ condom” because they are thin enough to be almost unnoticeable on camera. And “for personal use, it’s really the best super-thin condom out there.” Amy Baldwin and April Lambert, hosts of the Shameless Sex podcast, add that “they are generally one of the more affordable brands on the market, and they are made of high-quality latex, meaning they don’t leave you with that nasty latex smell. When it comes to condoms, quality definitely matters.”
The best condoms for toys
Lee says they prefer “working with condoms, gloves, and dental dams (in addition to STI testing) to further normalize the use of barriers in safer sex practices.” And safer sex practices also extend to your vibrators and dildos, especially when you’re playing with a partner. Lee points out that while a toy certainly can’t get you pregnant, anything inserted can transmit bacteria. Plus, a condom not only makes clean-up easier but also protects silicone toys from incompatible silicone lube. They recommend the lightly lubricated Lifestyles Tuxedo Condoms for this purpose.
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