11 Types of Condoms, Plus the Pros and Cons of Each
Condoms come in a variety of shapes, colors, and sizes, which can make choosing one all the more confusing. The good news is you can't really go wrong (as long as you grab the right size, of course).
"The best condom on the market is one that you use," Lauren Streicher, MD, a clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine, tells Health.
That's because any time there's skin-to-skin contact during sex—whether it be oral, genital, anal, or whatever else is tickling your fancy—there's a risk of spreading sexually transmitted infections (STIs), Dr. Streicher says. Even sex toys, like dildos, can spread STIs if they're shared among partners. Therefore, you should use condoms in almost every sexual interaction. Plus, when used correctly, they are 98% effective at preventing pregnancy, according to Planned Parenthood.
So instead of stressing about the rubber you choose, focus on what might feel good or fun for you and a partner. Here's the lowdown on the 11 types of condoms you may come across on store shelves—and the pros and cons of each.
1. Latex condoms
Standard latex condoms are the most common type of rubber and a reliable choice for preventing pregnancies and STIs. That's because latex is a non-porous material that's easy (and cheap) to produce—just avoid using oil-based lubes like lotion, vaseline, or whipped cream, which can break down latex, making these condoms less effective. Therefore, it's best to opt for a water or silicone-based lube with this type of product.
Additionally, if you notice any itching, redness, or rash after using one, ask your doctor to test you for a latex allergy before quitting these condoms all together. "Irritation could also be caused by other factors like lubricant or excessive dryness," Angela Chaudhari, MD, an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine, tells Health.
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2. Non-latex condoms
If you do have a latex allergy, you still have plenty of options, like condoms made of polyurethane, polyisoprene, nitrile, or lambskin. However, don't opt for latex-free condoms if you or a partner isn't allergic, Dr. Chaudhari says. That's because non-latex sheaths are more likely to break, lowering their effectiveness.
3. Female condoms
Unlike external condoms, female condoms—sometimes called internal condoms—are inserted inside the vagina.
When used correctly they are 95% effective at preventing pregnancy and STIs, according to Planned Parenthood. However, because they are more difficult to insert, internal condoms are only 79% effective in practice. Therefore, Dr. Chaudhari recommends combining them with another form of birth control, such as the pill or an IUD (aka, an intrauterine device).
The big benefit of these condoms is that they provide those with vaginas greater control over their sexual health. Plus, you can insert them up to eight hours before sex so you don't have to pause for a condom-break in the heat of the moment. Just make sure not to use them along with external condoms—doing that increases the risk of breakage for both.
4. Lambskin condoms
Lambskin condoms are made from the lining of animal intestines. While the material may feel more natural or increase sensitivity during sex, it's also much more porous. In fact, the holes in lambskin are large enough that some viruses, like HIV or herpes, can pass right on through. Therefore, they don't protect against STIs and are much less effective at preventing pregnancy, according to Dr. Chaudhari. So unless they're the only condom present, it's best to skip over these products.
5. Flavored condoms
Flavored condoms are an easy way to add a bit of novelty to the bedroom, especially if you or a partner dislikes the taste of latex during oral sex. Plus, they're just as effective as good ol' latex condoms since they're essentially the same—one's just covered in a tasty coating. Flavored condoms are also safe for vaginal sex, but if you notice any irritation down south, switch to a different type of condom next time things start heating up.
6. Glow-in-the-dark condoms
Your friend bought you a whole box of glow-in-the-dark condoms as a joke gift for your birthday, but they're not actually safe to use, right? Turns out novelty condoms are totally fine.
Since they're typically made from latex, they're just as effective as your average condom. It all comes down to personal preference; it's not a safety issue, says Dr. Streicher. So if you want to turn your partner's business into an iridescent light saber, well, may the force be with you
7. Ribbed condoms
If you're perusing the condom aisle, you may see some boxes claim to enhance "her pleasure" thanks to their unique design and shape. More often than not that signifies that their sheaths are ribbed, meaning they have additional texture on the outside.
The placement of these ribs are designed to add stimulation and, depending on their placement, may be enjoyable for either partner. However, if your nether-regions are quite sensitive, you may find ribbed or other textured condoms agitating. One way you can reduce the friction is with lube.
8. Spermicide condoms
Some condoms include spermicide, a chemical substance that immobilizes and destroys sperm. On its own, the substance is 70% to 80% effective at preventing pregnancy. However, when combined with a barrier method—like a condom—that efficacy jumps to 97%; that is actually a lower percentage than non-spermicidal condoms, which is because spermicide may damage latex.
"I'm still going to tell someone to use backup contraception if the condom breaks, spermicide or not," says Dr. Streicher. Plus, the chemical may cause irritation or an allergic-reaction, so it's probably best to stick to spermicide-free sheaths.
9. Thin or ultra-thin condoms
Thin or ultra-thin condoms are exactly what they sound like: a condom with slightly less material. Therefore, many people tout them as the most-preferred barrier method of contraception because they don't totally reduce all those sexy sensation.
But does thinner material mean they're more likely to break? Not necessarily. "Most condom failures are from the condom not being used soon enough, or if it rolls off while you're still inside of someone," says Dr. Streicher. "That has nothing to do with the type of condom."
10. Lubricated condoms
These types of condoms have lube built right in. Therefore, you don't have to worry about bringing your own or figuring out if your lube is condom compatible (remember how oil-based lubes can break down latex?).
Lubricated condoms also reduce friction from vaginal dryness. "Lubricated is not only going to be more comfortable, but it's going to decrease the chance that [the condom] is going to break or come off," says Dr. Streicher.
11. Tingling condoms
Thanks to the addition of a specially formulated lubricant, these type of condoms provide a "tingling" sensation for one or both partners. Some people say this subtle prickle is incredibly pleasant, while others may find it uncomfortable or barely notice it at all—it's all a matter of personal preference. Plus, most versions of this rubber use minty lube to achieve the desired effect, meaning it may also taste or smell better than a regular latex condom.
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