There are plenty of contraception options out there, but none of them comes close to the best, oldest, and most effective of them all: Condoms.
Most are familiar with the omnipresent Trojan condom, but it’s not the be-all-end-all. There are female condoms, male condoms, expensive condoms, free condoms, latex condoms and even lambskin condoms. That last one isn’t even the weirdest!
For all of their practicality and use, there still hasn’t been a definitive one-stop-shop for all things condom. Likely, that’s due to the notion that there’s not much to know.
I tend to disagree, and so will you.
Male Condom Overview
Slow down there. First, we’ll need to talk about the birds and the bees for a brief moment. Rather simple, really: Conception means to become pregnant. Contraception is to actively try to not let that happen.
Condoms achieve that goal – and more.
Put simply: They envelop the penis in latex – but that’s not the only material they can be made of. Condom sizes vary. And, as such, their prices differ depending on how much material is used to manufacture them.
The largest, or “magnum condoms,” are on average more expensive than smaller varieties due to the amount of latex needed to produce them. Though Magnum condoms are a product name from Trojan, they’ve become a term used for any larger than normal latex contraceptive.
All of them, from the best condoms to the worst, prevent pregnancy by stopping sperm from leaving its rubbery grasp. But they also prohibit the skin from touching your partner’s, and so stop Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) from infecting another victim.
While that’s great for your health, it’s not so good for the pleasure aspect of sex. In fact, many people stop using condoms because they don’t like losing sensation. This is understandable …
… but then both parties wish they had once a pregnancy or STD pops up.
Female Condom Overview
While they perform the same basic function, female condoms are a tad different. They’re more commonly referred to as “internal condoms,” and are just the inverse form of the male condom. Instead of putting the condom over-top the penis before insertion, the internal condom sits in the vagina.
They also look similar to one another, with the difference being the lack of a sperm catcher in the case of the female variant, in addition to a small amount of stiffer material on the outer ring to ensure it doesn’t slip or move.
Also, like it’s male counterpart, female condoms prevent STDs… barely.
But at least they prevent pregnancy, right?
No, not really. If used perfectly and everything goes right, female condoms are only 95% effective against pregnancy as opposed to the 99% effectiveness found with the male option. But that’s only when everything is done right.
In reality, where all of us live, internal condoms are only 79% effective. This means that for every 100 women who use them, 21 will become pregnant.
We aren’t in the habit of making recommendations on your life choices. But it might be wise to only read the instructions below on female condoms for educational purposes only. Unless that is, you’re the gambling sort.
How to Put on a Condom (Men)
Putting on a condom isn’t a complicated or confusing concept.
Step 1: Place the condom reservoir-side (that little bump) up.
Step 2: Roll it down the rest of the way.
And that’s it. You’re good to go! When you’re done, throw it in a garbage receptacle.
“What condom should I use?” If you’re confused about which condom size to go with, here’s a helpful chart for that. It includes exact sizes, condom types and varieties for those allergic to latex or looking for a specific brand!
How to Put on a Condom (Women)
This process, on the other hand, isn’t nearly as easy and is actually pretty complicated. Really, it’s difficult to see the upside of the product. I’ll let the fine folks over at Young Women’s Health take this one:
The female condom can be inserted well before penetration. Wash your hands first and find a comfortable position, perhaps squatting with knees apart or lying down with legs bent and knees apart. Hold the female condom so that the open end is hanging down. You may put lubricant on the outside of the closed side of the condom to help insert it smoothly. Squeeze the inner ring with your thumb and middle finger.
Insert the inner ring and pouch inside of your vaginal opening. With your index finger, push the inner ring with the pouch way up into your vagina, so that the inner ring is up past your pubic bone. You can feel your pubic bone by curving your finger towards your front when it is a couple of inches inside of your vagina. Be sure to go slowly and be patient. Make sure the female condom is not twisted at all. The outside ring of the female condom should lie against the outer lips of your vagina. About one inch of it should be outside of your body.
You need to guide the male’s penis into the female condom so that it doesn’t enter the vagina during sex. Once the penis enters the female condom inside your vagina, the vagina will expand and the condom will fit better.
A male using a female condom and vice versa is neither safe nor effective. Don’t do it!
Latex condoms, the type most are familiar with, only came to be less than 100 years ago. In 1920, latex had been invented. The rubber variety, which was the standard starting in 1850, was outmoded due to the superiority of latex.
Before the 16th century, pregnancy prevention was seen as the woman’s responsibility in Egypt, Greece, and Rome. Meanwhile, in Asia, a small amount of material used to cover only the head of the penis was around – not quite a condom, but close.
Around that same time in Italy, anatomist and physician Gabriele Falloppio wrote up a document on a method to prevent syphilis. The disease killed vast swaths of people, and it wasn’t a painless death by any stretch of the imagination.
Falloppio described what is considered the earliest condom meant to prevent STDs. It was a piece of linen covered in a chemical solution, dried, and then tied onto the penis with a ribbon. (If you’re allergic to latex, I do not recommend that as an alternative. Not exactly a comfortable fit.)
The first discovered use of condoms for prevention of pregnancy dates back to 1605 in a rather odd place; a religious publication. Catholic theologian Leonardus Lessius described contraceptive condoms only to condemn them as immoral.
In 1666, the English Birth Rate Commission noticed a drop in fertility rates due to the use of what they called “condons.”
During the Renaissance, a huge leap in condom technology was made. Or, perhaps, a step backward depending on your point of view. They started using animal intestine and bladders with the same frequency as they did linen. Meanwhile, in Japan, “fine leather” was used, which covered the entire penis.
Lambskin condoms, as we know them today, are actually a variety made of either the intestines of lambs or a synthetic material, depending on the company. These are still widely available, albeit more expensive. Many of the manufacturers of this type note on their product information pages that they should not be used to prevent STDs, as the transfer from one skin membrane to another is not disrupted by the lamb’s organ. More on this later.
For some time, pharmacists were loath to sell condoms due to the relation they had to sexuality – a stigma attached to the medical-pharmaceutical industry that remains today.
Manufacturers and Condom Brands
Classified as a Class II Medical Device (meaning they’re subject to some government regulation), the FDA is required to inspect each and every condom at the manufacturing facility from which they come at least once every two years. Electrical and mechanical equipment must be meticulously maintained, cleaned, and operated on a frequent basis to prevent rust and malfunction.
All these things make the condom industry difficult and expensive to get involved with. As such, usually, textile and rubber manufacturers often branch out into condoms using the capital they’ve already made.
Trojan, Karex, and Lifestyles are the three largest and most widely spread condom manufacturers in the world. All three were rubber manufacturers in or around the 19th century before switching to condoms.
Best Condoms, Worst Condoms, and Condom Sense
While there is a certain degree of subjectivity when deciding which contraceptive sheath to use, there are always obvious losers that should be avoided.
As mentioned earlier, getting into the condom industry in the United States is no easy task. The FDA is no stranger to shutting down companies that do not meet their standards, and can easily eradicate a business after a single misstep on the producer’s part.
Because of this, any condom manufactured in the United States can likely be trusted to work regardless of its brand. Likely, but not necessarily
Trojan learned its lesson back in 2015.
A consumer sued the condom company’s parent corporation Church & Dwight in California for breaking the state’s strict “Made in USA” labeling law – probably because they weren’t made anywhere near the United States.
London Rubber Company (A.K.A., LRC Products), was sued by two customers for £120,000 back in the year 2000 after a condom broke during use, resulting in a pregnancy. LRC lost the case and was ordered to pay the full amount for the “loss of earnings, the discomfort, pain, and inconvenience of the pregnancy and birth, and the cost of bringing up her daughter Kara,” according to the legal correspondent who wrote on the case.
Lifestyles was sued for what the claimant referred to as “crimes against the [sic] humanity” for not recalling condoms that had expired years earlier in 1997. The judge found Lifestyles not guilty, though details on the case are not readily available.
If I had to make a guess, I’d say the verdict was due to the fact that the creation of life is the opposite of a crime against “the humanity.”
The worst condom, then, is one not made in the United States. Even if they are made in the United States, expired condoms are by far the worst. Do not use expired condoms for any reason under any circumstances. They’re likely to break due to degradation of the material over time.
Also, follow any and all instructions on the condom packaging regarding storage. Putting condoms in a place that’s either too hot, too cold, too dry or even too moist for longer than is recommended could make the durability and integrity of the condom degrade.
Put your condoms in a room temperature environment, and make sure to switch out that just-in-case condom in your wallet often!
Sex Toys and Condoms
While it isn’t entirely necessary to protect your sex toys with condoms, the ingredients of some lubricants can break down the materials of some sex toys. As such, it’s best to buy both from the same seller to ensure maximum compatibility.
However, if you aren’t sure or if you just want to play it extra safe, putting a condom over your sex toy isn’t a bad idea. Regardless of whether you do so or not, cleaning all devices is a must.
For more information on proper sex toy hygiene and care, we have an article for that.
Lambskin Condoms and Non-Latex Condoms
Condoms can be made out of latex, “lambskin,” polyurethane, and others – depending on the manufacturer. The latter two are an alternative for those who are either allergic to or aren’t a fan of latex condoms.
The upside to using lambskin condoms is their reportedly more “natural” feel. Rather than a completely foreign material separating you and your partner, lambskin’s organic nature allows the transfer of body heat and sensation to pass through with less inhibition.
Though this doesn’t come without downsides. Lambskin condoms are anywhere from 0%-1% effective against STDs and STIs. Pregnancy prevention, however, is the same as latex or any other modern condom.
The Lifestyles Skyn condom is actually made of a type of synthetic rubber called polyisoprene. The name is likely a marketing ploy.
Condom Facts and Oddities
The Catholic Church is, to this day, debating whether condom use is acceptable or not. Sexual acts outside of marriage, as well as the use of foreign objects, is frowned upon, but condoms are a special case. One the one hand, they prevent the spread of STDs and STIs. On the other hand, they are foreign objects.
Cardinal Godfried Danneels of Belgium ruled them unacceptable due to their perceived promotion of promiscuity, which, according to him, increases the spread of STDs and STIs. So, if you’re Catholic, you ought to stick with good, old abstinence.
Unless you live in Africa.
There, the Roman Catholic Church has hundreds of programs dedicated to fighting the AIDS epidemic running rampant in that part of the world.
Other African condom-quirks include but are in no way limited to:
- Certain cultures seeing the use of condoms as a “waste” of sperm.
- Sperm being believed to be an “elixir” which is beneficial to women’s health.
- Condoms being reserved for “undesirable women.”
Spray-on condoms (Sprühkondom) nearly came to exist. Yes, seriously. This adhesive contraception concept came from the mind of a German working for the Institute of Condom Consultancy in Germany named Jan Vinzenz Krause.
After 2008, the venture was no longer being pursued. Why? Well, it took up to three minutes to dry and fully set. It isn’t hard (wink, wink) to see why the project was abandoned.
And finally, and perhaps most humorously: The manager for the American singing group One Direction filed a lawsuit against a U.S. condom company named One Erection back in 2014.
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