My body hates it when I try to be responsible. After years on the pill, I developed an infection—a common side effect of long-term use—which restricted me from ever using hormonal birth control again. Initially I thought, No problem. I’ll just get a nonhormonal IUD. And then my IUD insertion failed. Twice. An IUD implant will fail in up to 10 percent of all women’s bodies; the uterus will literally push it out. (Sorry, guys.)
Now condoms are the only form of birth control I use. Unfortunately, limited access to female contraceptives is a reality many women face every day. The good news? The condom market has changed dramatically in recent years, from enhanced engineering to brands that support social causes. To find the ultimate prophylactic, my boyfriend and I decided to field-test 11 varieties. Our reviews won’t apply to every couple, so here’s what I recommend: Run your own human trials. If you think you won’t find a condom that turns you on, odds are you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
A 2016 release that features new engineering
SHE SAID: There was a lot of buzz surrounding the Hex, produced by sex-toy maker Lelo, when it debuted last summer, so I was eager to try it for myself. The material’s “revolutionary” hexagonal structure is supposed to deliver thinness without compromising strength. It definitely feels thin, but the texture of the unique honey-comb design also comes through. Overall, it’s a nice sensation, winning this condom a high rating.
HE SAID: The package is easy to open, the condom is easy to put on, and it feels great. Lelo seems to think this condom will change everything we know about prophylactics. It’s too early to be certain, but the amount of engineering that went into designing the Hex suggests the company might be onto something.
RFSU BIRDS’ N BEES
Certified vegan and silicone lubricated
SHE SAID: I’d never tried a vegan condom before because I assumed condoms didn’t contain ingredients derived from animals. Turns out casein, a milk protein, is commonly used in latex manufacturing. This condom is highly lubricated, making it difficult to put on, but I would still recommend it to anyone who’s vegan and/or environmentally conscious. The cute pink packaging is inconspicuous and purse-friendly. If it fell out of my bag, I wouldn’t be embarrassed.
HE SAID: Birds ’n Bees’ packaging is cartoonish, and the condoms look like they came out of a kid’s toy vending machine. Putting one on took some work. It did its job, but other than being vegan, it’s nothing special.
America’s go-to nonlatex rubber
SHE SAID: Latex can cause irritation in a lot of women, including me, so I’ve been using Skyn nonlatex condoms for years. But they’re actually what prompted my boyfriend and me to look for alternatives. I never had a problem using these condoms before, but with my boyfriend, the Skyn moves around, which does little to make me feel secure. Please note that my dude doesn’t have a small dick, so I’m not sure why this happens.
HE SAID: The packaging makes you feel like a king, but the experience is anything but royal. The Skyn rolls up or comes off completely. There are better nonlatex options.
A drugstore mainstay that purports to exceed U.S. standards for reliability
SHE SAID: This Japanese brand may have been developed with “state-of-the-art technology,” but the fact that it’s named after a loose-fitting garment hardly inspires confidence. It feels as natural as a latex condom can, though, and it doesn’t slip or break. It’s one of the better latex products on the market.
HE SAID: A top-three favorite of mine, the MicroThin doesn’t feel like a surgical glove when I’m wearing it. Still, all this “thin” marketing makes me wonder whether we men can even sense differences in thickness that are measured in microns, especially when features like ribbing offset those measurements. If you’re looking for a thin condom, don’t pick one based on its advertising.
SIR RICHARD’S CLASSIC RIBBED
A vegan ribbed wrap in mod packaging from a socially conscious company
SHE SAID: I love the philosophy behind this brand: For every condom bought, a condom is donated to someone in need. It’s like TOMS but for sex. The ribs are less raised than those on other brands of condoms, which is great, since pronounced ribbing often makes women feel as though they’re fucking a screwdriver.
HE SAID: The name might suggest that the box comes with a free monocle, but that aside, this is a fine condom that’s on a par with others. Ribs don’t do anything for us guys, but if your partner enjoys them, remind yourself that you’re not the only one involved in intercourse.
DUREX PERFORMAX INTENSE
Glazed with a heat-activated “delay lubricant” for dudes who are quick to finish
SHE SAID: This condom is both ribbed and dotted, which made me feel like I was using a sex toy. The lube on the inside, advertised to help men last longer by delaying ejaculation, collects at the tip, which isn’t attractive.
HE SAID: The drop of lubricant in the tip was a turnoff, but I couldn’t let some glop get in the way of science. Unfortunately, it made no difference in how long I lasted.
FC2 FEMALE CONDOM
A six-and-a-half-inch nonlatex ring sold online
SHE SAID: According to Claire Cavanah, co-founder of Babeland, a sex-education company that operates adult stores in New York City and Seattle, female condoms account for only one percent of her stores’ condom sales. But, she says, the women who use them love them. The illustrated instructions on the FC2’s wrapper look like they’re from a high school sex-ed pamphlet, but listen here: I was shocked at how good it felt. The outer ring of the condom rests just outside the vagina, where it rubs up against the clitoris. For many women, clitoral stimulation is hard to achieve during penetration; the ring makes climaxing much easier. The biggest deterrent? At up to $3.50 a pop, the FC2 is hardly affordable to use every time you have sex.
HE SAID: I’d never actually seen a female condom in a store, let alone used one, but it was far less strange than I expected. Cavanah warned us that it might sound like a trash bag during overly spirited lovemaking—and yes, that would be a turnoff during a one-night stand or the first time with a new partner—but after testing six condoms, our lovemaking was anything but vigorous. The cost may deter those with highly active libidos, but everyone should try the FC2 at least once.
TROJAN SUPRA BARESKIN
A popular latex alternative made from polyurethane, a.k.a. plastic
SHE SAID: This ultrathin nonlatex condom is hands down my favorite. Its material is smoother and creates less friction. Simply put, it’s the condom that feels least like a condom.
HE SAID: The Supra wins first place. The wrapper tears easily, and the condom rolls on well and is thin enough that it doesn’t diminish sensitivity. Trojan likes to spout that it’s the most trusted brand in the United States; this ad copy could very well play a part in my feeling safer using it versus unfamiliar brands. Note: Many condoms are marketed with the claim that they can’t be felt when in use. This is misleading. No condom, no matter how advanced, will be unfelt. If you’re seeking that mythical rubber, you’ll never be happy.
A dry and colorful alternative to a party balloon
SHE SAID: Since it’s nonlubricated, this condom is out-of-the-package ready for oral sex, but its color made my boyfriend’s dick look like a balloon animal—which, you know, was fun. He couldn’t feel anything when I tried to blow him, and it smelled like the giant pink erasers I used in middle school.
HE SAID: This condom is awful. Whatever the makers are going for, it doesn’t work, unless they’re trying to replicate the condoms sailors wore in the Jazz Age. The colored latex caused my penis to look (and feel) like a dildo. Strange forms of intercourse would have to be explored for this condom to feel good for either partner.
BABELAND SHEER LATEX
An affordable option to stock in glove boxes, dopp kits, nightstands and gym bags
SHE SAID: The sex-toy retailer’s top seller is a standard and reliable latex condom that’s just like the one you rolled over a banana in health class. I’d use it in a pinch without worry.
HE SAID: This is a no-frills condom that works just fine and rolls on easily. (As we know, one complaint about condoms is that they slow down sex.) They’re also cheap (85 cents each). Keep some on hand in case of emergency.
TROJAN DOUBLE ECTASY
Twice-lubricated latex—inside for men, outside for women—from the granddaddy of condom makers
SHE SAID: The foil wrapper is comically large, and the condom has no reservoir tip, which is a safety concern. The “intensified lubricant” applied on the outside causes a warming effect, but it doesn’t last long. It’s like a piece of gum that loses its flavor after a minute.
HE SAID: Many extravagantly named rubbers are nothing more than gimmicks sold to people who hope a condom will improve their waning sex lives. The “ultrasmooth lubricant” on the inside did nothing, and the lack of a reservoir tip seems like a design flaw and counter to preventing pregnancy. If you’re looking to change up your sex life, some advice: Ask what your partner enjoys in bed—and communicate the same—instead of trying to double the pleasure with a rubber.