Many people are very careful about what they put on and in their bodies. They drink out of BPA-free water bottles. They use non-toxic makeup. The only eat organic. And it's this certain kind of human who might find themselves wondering if flavored condoms are really safe. As a sex educator, it's a question that's been posed to me more than once.
Flavored condoms might seem like a marketing gimmick, but they’re actually created for a specific purpose: fellatio, or oral sex on a penis. The idea is that having a condom that tastes less like latex might encourage people to use condoms during oral sex. While many sexually transmitted infections (STIs) can be passed on during oral sex, a lot of people choose not to use condoms for that sex act, since it doesn't cause pregnancy. According to one 2017 YouGov survey, 34% of Americans never use condoms during oral sex.
While other types of condoms can be used for oral, vaginal, or anal sex, flavored condoms should really, really only be used for oral. While the condom itself is usually made of the same material as a non-flavored condom, the tasty part is actually in a coating on top or in the lubricant. That flavor can contain artificial flavoring and sugar. And the sugar is where we potentially run into problems.
While the small amount of sugar on flavored condoms is fine for most people to consume with their mouths, it’s generally a bad idea to put sugar in a vagina. Introducing sugar into the vagina can lead to a yeast infection or bacterial vaginosis (BV), which anyone who’s ever had one can tell you is not fun. Even the relatively small amount of sugar on flavored condoms can upset the delicate balance of someone's vulva and vagina, leading to days of itching and burning. So, as a rule, people should not use flavored condoms for vaginal intercourse. (As a side note, vegans might want to avoid flavored condoms altogether, as some contain casein, which is a dairy product.)
When you’re shopping for flavored condoms, it’s a good idea to stick with the known brands. Sometimes condoms are made for “novelty” purposes, and aren’t actually supposed to be used during penetrative sex at all. (Confusing and annoying — I know.) So if you’re not familiar with the brand, take a minute to double check that the condoms you’ve chosen are safe for sex. If they're not, they'll say on the packaging that they're "novelty products." And while you’re at it, you might want to grab some non-flavored condoms as well. That way you can be sure to have some on hand if you want to switch from oral sex to vaginal or anal sex.
Ultimately, flavored condoms are safe, as long as you sick to using them for their intended purpose. However, if you have nothing else on hand, it’s better to use a flavored condom for vaginal or anal sex than it is to use no condom at all. It will protect against pregnancy and STIs, it's not going to kill you, and it’s not guaranteed to give you an infection. But a better bet is to just stock up on both flavored and non-flavored condoms, so you’re never caught in a situation where you have to choose between unprotected intercourse and potential yeast infection. Because that's a choice that no one wants to make.