Condom Education is a Matter of Public Health.
What we lack in condom enthusiasm, we pay for with our health.
If you were ever lucky enough to sit through a sex ed class, you probably learned how to put a condom on a banana or another phallic flora. If you were really lucky, you were told to pinch the condom nipple to prevent breaks after ejaculation. Your teacher may have drilled it in your head: “Wear a Condom.” That’s great, really fantastic. But, that’s far from the adequate education we need to use condoms as our best bet for better collective sexual health.
And there lies the issue. Sexual health conversations often skip over sexual pleasure as an essential ingredient. Here is some news: most of the sex people are having is for pleasure. We can’t just ask people to wear condoms, feeling good about having said what needed to be said, and then judge their ambivalence with accusations of irresponsibility.
Sure, there are always those who don’t even try. But in my experience, plenty of responsible and smart penis*-owning people struggle to be a good condom-wearing person while having a satisfying sexual experience. And when the person wearing a condom is unable to enjoy sex due to condom troubles, their experience impacts everyone in the room.
So instead of searching for a condom that works, conversations in the actual or metaphorical bedroom quickly devolve into negotiating how to forgo condoms altogether. There is a reason for that: we have collectively accepted that condoms make sex worse and less exciting.
It’s time for a change of attitude towards this ancient wrap technology. The good news is that in this day and age, there is a condom for everyone; a condom that doesn’t stop your equipment from working and helps you feel plenty of pleasure; a condom you could actually get excited about.
Shaming people into wearing condoms is never an effective public health strategy. What we need is some encouraging information to fill the enthusiasm gap in condom education. So here are a few points and reminders:
Note: The links below are not meant for promotional purposes. They are only examples of what is available in the market.
Condoms are NOT for penises only. Condoms can also be used with toys, fingers, or cut open to make dental dams for oral sex. For example, unlubricated condoms are great for toys.
Tip: To make a dental dam, unroll a condom and snip the top and the rolled ends with scissors. Then, cut through the tube lengthwise to make a sheet that could be used to cover body parts. Here is a visual aid.
Condoms are NOT one-size-fits-all. They come in many sizes, because wearing the right condom is essential to making it effective. Condom that are too tight cause discomfort and tear; condoms that are too large move around, may come off during sex, and reduce sensation.
Tip: If the insertable part (penis, dildo, toy) is too big to comfortably go through a toilet paper roll, regular condoms are too small. If it goes through with a gap, then regular condoms are too big. Remember, when it comes to sizing, girth matters more than length.
Solution: Get an accurate measurement of your penis, phallus, or toy using a guideline like this. Try a size sampler pack from your favorite condom brands to find one that is a good fit for you. You can try on different condoms during masturbation or solo-play to see which one fits you best.
Condoms are NOT safe for everyone. Condoms are made of different materials and are often coated with lubrication, flavoring, and spermicide. Latex allergy is the most known one, but other ingredients in condoms can cause a reaction in different people. Spermicides are toxic and can cause irritation and allergies. While spermicide use has decreased in recent years, several brands continue to coat their condoms with it.
Tip: Flavored condoms are intended for oral sex, and the ingredients can cause irritation if used for vaginal or anal penetration. For those with latex sensitivity or allergies, there are synthetic as well as lambskin alternatives. Please note that lambskin condoms, while great for pregnancy prevention, do not protect against sexually transmitted illnesses (STI).
Solution: Read the ingredients before purchasing and discuss the condom type with your partner(s) before using them.
Condoms CAN enhance sexual pleasure. Condoms come in many shapes and designs to fit the wearer better as well as create extra sensation for the receiver. For those looking to boost their experience, textured condoms have ribs, dots, ridges or a combination texture on the outside that provides extra stimulation during penetration. There are also “tailored” condoms with a smaller base or a larger head to better fit different phallic shapes.
Tip: Textured condoms can overstimulate the anus or vagina. Extra lube may help reduce irritation, but textured condoms may not be everyones’ cup of tea.
Solution: Get a sampler textured condom pack and try different condoms to find the one that works best for you and your partner(s). Perhaps, create a condom testing role-play scene together and rate different types of condoms on their merits such as fit, pleasure for the receiver, sensation for the wearer, material, etc.
Condoms WILL work best with lube. Condoms tend to dry things up and lubrication is needed to make them work effectively. Water-based or silicone-based lubes can be used both inside and outside of a condom to make wearing and using it more pleasurable and reduce risk of tear.
Tip: Latex condoms WILL break if used with oil-based lubes, or if they come in contact with oily lotions. However, non-latex condoms can be used with oil-based lubes. If using an unlubricated condom, do not add more than a couple drops of lube inside, otherwise the condom may not stay in place correctly.
Solution: Find a body-safe and condom-safe lube that both you and your partner like. Water-based lubes (choose glycerine-free for vaginal use) are a good all-purpose option. However, silicone-based lubes offer some advantages such as more slipperiness and less drying. Silicone-based lubes should not be used with silicone toys.
Condom etiquette IS complicated. In my utopia, after doing the work of selecting a condom that works well for you, you would then always carry your favorite condoms with you (like a boss) and never show up to have sex without them. Oral sex lovers would carry several flavored condoms in their pockets, and textured condom lovers would fill their bags with a few, just in case. I still encourage you to do all of these, If you can do so safely.
However, in this world, many people do not carry condoms on them due to shame, threat of arrest, and stereotypes around carrying condoms.
Here is a brief breakdown of the complications of our taboo-ridden anti-condom world:
If you are a woman or femme, you may struggle with shame around being perceived as promiscuous and “too eager” for sex. Carrying condoms may have incorrectly signaled consent resulting in sexual violence and trauma. For many transwomen and transfeminine folks, these assumptions are amplified by oversexualization of trans bodies and stereotypes of being seen as sexual objects. The plot thicken even more for Black transwomen, who up until recently were being disproportionately arrested on prostitution charges just for carrying condoms.
The taboo of carrying condoms follows men too. Men and masculine-of-center people who carry condoms are seen as “too forward” or even predatory. Queer and trans men may also struggle with the trauma of carrying condoms having had invited sexual violence in the past. Other trans, genderqueer/fluid, and non-binary (aka G/no) folks have had to deal with their own smorgasburg of shame and stereotypes around carrying and wearing condoms.
For some, wearing condoms has become synonymous with lack of love and trust. Phrases such as “if you love/trust me, you won’t use a condom” manipulate a partner away from condom use. Pressuring and manipulating a partner into not using condoms is sexual violence. Instead, try having open and honest conversations about each person's needs and desires.
Tip: In some sexual encounters such as a one-night stand, casual play, or sex work, many people who receive penetration prefer providing condoms that they know are not expired or tampered with. This is an effective harm reduction approach.
Solution: If shame and trauma is preventing you from carrying condoms, begin working through the barriers with the help of loved ones, a professional, or a community. If you have the privilege of accessing condom education and distribution, use your privilege to provide access to others. This can look like donating to sexual education initiatives, and providing different types of condoms for free at a local community center, or at your house.
For our Earth-loving readers: Eco-friendly condoms and organic lubes haven’t forgotten about you!
Shout Out: Internal condoms, aka female condoms, offer internal protection for vaginal and anal sex. They are more expensive but often reusable too. Read more about them here.
This is by no means everything you need to know about condoms, however, I hope this information inspires you to explore the world of condoms as an act of self-care, knowing you ARE entitled to wearing a condom that brings you and your partner(s) joy, health, AND pleasure.
*In these blogs, I am using medical and commonly-known terms such as “penis” and “vagina” to refer to different genitals. These terms exclude trans and intersex bodies. The biological reality is that genitals do not fit in a penis-or-vagina binary. Many people also refrain from using medical terms for their body parts due to trauma and dysphoria. I encourage my readers to use this information as they see fit for their genitals. Alternative terms for genitals include: outies, innies, front hole, equipment, bits, junk.