7 Types Of Condoms, Explained By A Sex Educator
You’ve likely had some up-close-and-personal experience with the standard latex external condom. You know the type: Comes in a shiny foil package, has a very distinctive smell, rolls down over a penis or toy, and prevents pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs). But that’s just one (albeit very common) type of condom. There’s a whole world of condoms out there.
We’re talking internal. We’re talking lambskin. We’re talking polysipropene and spermicidal and ultra-thin and even ones that take their design inspiration from honeycomb. And that’s before even getting into some of the very specific novelty condoms out like there, like this one that’s basically a tattoo sleeve for a dick.
As a sex educator, sometimes I feel like a full-time cheerleader for the seemingly unappreciated condom. And I get it: Condoms don't have the greatest reputation. People complain that they ruin the mood or reduce sensation or are just awkward. But I really believe that part of the reason people hate on condoms so much is that they just don't know how many different types of condoms are out there.
So whether you’re looking to protect against pregnancy, STIs, or both, there’s a wide range of condoms out there for you to choose from. Here are seven types of condoms, for your consideration.
1. Latex Condoms
Latex condoms are the most common type out there. If you pick up a free condom at Planned Parenthood or grab a pack at the corner store, it’s probably a latex condom. They usually come in foil packs and are designed to roll down over the penis. They provide great protection from pregnancy (99% effective with perfect use, 85% with real life use, according to Planned Parenthood) and against STIs. They can be used for vaginal, oral, or anal sex.
You can get both lubricated and un-lubricated condoms. Generally, you’re going to want to use the lubricated ones, because the un-lubricated ones can be uncomfortable and are more likely to tear. But some people like to use the un-lubricated ones for oral sex, either on a penis or cut into a dental dam to use over a vulva.
(Speaking of lube, make sure you don’t use oil-based lube with latex condoms, because it can degrade the latex and cause it to tear or reduce its effectiveness. But both silicone and water-based lubes are good to go!)
2. Polyisoprene Condoms
While latex condoms are awesome for most people, some people are allergic to latex, which is derived from the sap of the rubber tree. For those people, a polyisoprene external condom is a great option. Made from a synthetic form of latex, polysioprene condoms provide all of the benefits of a latex external condom, with none of the allergy-inducing compounds.
3. Lambskin Condoms
Lambskin condoms are another option for people with latex allergies, but with one really big caveat: They don’t protect against HIV and other STIs. Made from the intestine of a lamb, the pores in these condoms are larger than the HIV virus. That means the virus can slip through, so if STIs are a concern, skip the lambskin.
But if you’re just protecting against pregnancy — for which these are 98% effective with perfect use; 82% with normal use — a lot of people love lambskin condoms because they feel more natural, heat up nicely, are biodegradable, and can be used with any type of lube. They’re also a little pricier than standard latex condoms (around $26 for 10 Trojan Naturalamb compared to $5.50 for 12 Trojan Latex Ultra Thin), but if these are your jam, isn’t it worth it?
4. Internal Condoms
Internal condoms are sometimes called “female condoms” because they were designed to be used inside a vagina. But these days, sex educators and clinicians are calling them “internal condoms,” because not all people with vaginas are women and because many people use them for anal sex. In the United States, internal condoms are sold under the brand name FC2.
Internal condoms are made from polyurethane and nitrile, so they’re another option for people with latex allergies. They look kind of like plastic bags with a ring on either end and are inserted into the vagina or anus, allowing a penis or a toy to move in and out. They’re a great option for people who have a difficult time maintaining an erection while wearing an external condom, as well as for people who want to go back and forth between vaginal and anal sex without worrying about passing bacteria between the two orifices. Also, you can use any type of lube with them.
Internal condoms are a little less effective than external condoms when it come to preventing pregnancy, with 95% effectiveness with perfect use and 79% effectiveness with real life use, according to Planned Parenthood. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), internal condoms are “comparable” to external condoms when it comes to preventing STIs during vaginal sex, but more research is needed to find out how effective they are for anal sex. Despite that fact, many people do choose to use internal condoms for anal sex.
5. Spermicidal Condoms
If you really want to prevent pregnancy, then you might want to consider getting some spermicidal condoms. They’re regular external condoms, but with spermicide included to zap the little buggers, in addition to blocking them. The only disadvantage is that Nonoxynol-9, which is the active ingredient in spermicide, can cause irritation to some people’s genitals. There’s also some research that suggests it may increase the risk of HIV infection in people with vaginas, so if you’re concerned about potential HIV exposure, you might want to skip the spermicide.
6. Hexagonal Condoms
Hexagonal condoms are a new version of latex condoms, designed to be super strong and super sensitive. Created by the sexual health and sex toy company Lelo and touted as the "first innovation in condoms in 70 years," HEX condoms borrow their hexagonal design from beeswax.
But while sex educators and clinicians were initially excited by the idea of a new innovation in condom technology (because, trust me, it’s very rare), videos that showed a pin going through the condom without breaking made me sit up straight. That’s because while, sure, it’s cool that it’s so strong that a pin can’t pop it, what’s not cool is that indicates that if the condom did get a hole in it, the people using it might not be aware.
When a conventional latex condom breaks, it's very noticeable. People know that they might need need to take steps like taking the morning after pill or post-exposure prophylactics (PEP), which prevents HIV infection. But, according to this video at least, with the hexagonal condom, there’s no way to know there was damage unless you took the condom off and inspected it closely.
Sex researcher Dr. Zhana Vrangalova, PhD, reached out to Lelo to ask them about the controversy around the HEX condom back in 2017. The company said, "they are designed to keep the condom extra strong right up to the point of breakage, and then break as normal."
All good info to keep in mind as you're assessing your condom options.
7. Novelty Condoms
Novelty condoms run the gamut, from textured to flavored to hot/cold to glow-in-the-dark to ones that make a dick look like it’s tattooed. They’re all external condoms and they’re all likely to be made out of latex. And honestly the only thing I have to say about these is: Do you, boo. If you wanna bang with a glowing dick, I’m not here to stop you.
But whether you prefer the novelty or the standard, adding condoms to your sexual tool kit is always a good idea. STI and pregnancy protection, plus the chance for added pleasure? Why say no to that?