I have a condom problem.
I’m all about safe sex, but I don’t really know where to start when it comes to condoms. I always try to wear one when I’m with a new partner. But I don’t know which ones feel best/are most effective — or if even matters. What are the best options? Plus, putting on a condom can be a real buzzkill. I’m never sure how to navigate that moment. Any thoughts?
Wrapping It Up
Dear Wrapping It Up,
Condoms! One of my favorite topics. Condoms remain one of the more underappreciated forms of safe sex out there. They’re portable, small, unobtrusive and cheap. Plus, they have a rich history going back to at least the ancient Egyptians.
It can be overwhelming though, to navigate the vast world of condom options in the modern age. Lubed? Un-lubed? Cherry-flavored? Polyurethane? It can start to feel like you’re picking paint colors or something.
To help answer your question and give you some inspiration from history I’ve turned to Aine Collier, author of The Humble Little Condom: A History, a resource on all things condom-related. Collier spoke from her home in Dorset, England to help you get a handle on your condom conundrum…
AN ANCIENT ART
Collier dates the use of condoms to the ancient Egyptians, whose minimal loincloths morphed into a “glans condom”, a small sheath that covered the penis. Because the Egyptians preferred small families, birth control was a societal demand. As Collier says, “Protection has been needed forever. It’s not new. It’s part of being human.”
In other words, your options are modern, but your problem is ancient.
THE CASANOVA MOMENT
You say you struggle with the moment of putting on the condom because it breaks the mood? That’s a timeless issue. Collier points to Casanova as a possible source of inspiration in this area. While the fabled lover of women was known to use condoms as party favors, he also wrote poetry about them. Once, when he was sleeping with a nun (only Casanova…) he discovered a box of condoms in her chambers and replaced them with a poem to see if she would miss them. She wrote the following response:
When an angel fucks me I’ve no doubts
That nature’s author is my only spouse.
But to keep His line above suspicion Love must return my sheaths without objection.
Kind of incredible that she ever became a nun, huh? “Casanova sets a really good, early example of how men can be smart and sexy and be and funny without bringing sex down to something terribly mechanical,” Collier says.
Of course, we no longer live in ancient times, and part of your question is about options. Let’s delve into some of the most common ones and help you navigate:
Many manufacturers have spent significant time and resources trying to find a more eco-friendly biodegradable option for a condom that doesn’t clog up sewage systems. Collier has her doubts:
“In order for a piece of latex to break down it either has to spend a long time in water or an even longer time out in the sun. But they basically entomb rubbish, and so it doesn’t break down. You’d have to carry a thermos of water around with you to put your condom in for it to break down properly. How is that a green condom?”
Given Collier’s warning, I’d wait a moment until they get to the bottom of the green condom situation before springing for a pack.
Condoms come in all flavors these days, including durian. Be sure to read the fine print if you choose to use these, says Collier. Some contain added sugars, which can increase risk of a yeast infection.
Collier says that the latex condom was originally invented as a byproduct of an attempt to make a better surgical glove. It remained the standard material for many years on the condom market. While many people are allergic to latex, it’s still a reliable option. Be polite and ask first about any allergies your partner might have.
According to Collier, the newer, superfine, non-latex materials are also quite durable. “The science shows that they’re more comfortable than even the best latex. I don’t think they’ve gotten the marketing that they could have!” Maybe Skyn’s sexy marketing campaign will have people changing their minds…
The British company Durex popularized lubricated condoms in 1957. These lubricants are usually silicone-based. They’re a good option if you’re struggling with that moment of putting on the condom. You don’t want to have to reach for the lube as well.
Also a good option whether you go with latex or another synthetic. Just make sure your partner is fully aroused before slipping it on. And in.
Your enthusiasm for condoms sets an excellent precedent. “The device at this juncture is a good product. It’s lightweight. It’s safe,” Collier says. “Americans in large numbers are retreating from being smart about these things. You need outstanding curriculum to teach people that protection has been around and needed forever. It’s not new. It’s part of being human.”
Good luck wrapping it up.
Just the Tips is Playboy.com’s weekly advice column with professional matchmaker Katherine Cooper. Have a question for Katherine about sex, love or dating? Shoot her a note at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her @kathkathcoop.