8 Types of Condoms and Pros and Cons of Each

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  • Close-up of couple with a condom on bed

    Male condoms are the third most commonly used form of contraception in the United States to prevent unwanted pregnancy, after birth control pills and sterilization. Some condoms also prevent sexually transmitted infections. Condom use increased from 52 to 93% between 1982 and 2010. Teenagers older than 15 are the most common users. Since the introduction of rubber condoms in the 1860s, condom material and design has come a long way. There are several types of condoms; here’s what to know when choosing which type to use.

  • 1
    Latex Condoms
    group-of-condoms

    Latex condoms, made from natural rubber, are the most widely available and among the least expensive condoms. When used correctly, they effectively prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, or STIs. Some people can’t use latex condoms, however, because they’re allergic to the rubber, which can cause itchy skin and a rash. If you use an oil-based lubricant, such as Vaseline or baby oil with a latex condom, they can become slippery and may slide off, so water-based lubricants are preferable.

  • 2
    Condoms by Size
    straighten-up

    One of the most important factors when choosing a condom is fit. A condom that is too small can tear, or it can irritate the penis. One that is too large can slip off. Latex condoms are the stretchiest, so if you are not allergic to latex, they are a good place to start. Measure the penis when it is erect, checking length, girth and width (determine width by dividing girth by 3.14). Different brands of condoms vary in how they label sizes, so it’s best to check by trying one on, even if it means buying a few different sizes.

  • 3
    Thin and Ultra-Thin Condoms
    close-up shot of condom on gray background

    Thin and ultra-thin condoms are made with thinner latex to allow for more sensation during sexual activity. They are unlikely to break and are just as effective for preventing unwanted pregnancy and STIs as standard condoms. Like other condoms, they are available with and without lubrication and vary in shape, such as straight-walled and flared. Some men prefer a thicker condom so that intercourse lasts longer. It’s personal preference when it comes to the thickness of the condom.

  • 4
    Polyisoprene Condoms
    couple-talking-in-bed

    Polyisoprene is an FDA-approved form of synthetic rubber that doesn’t contain the proteins in latex that can trigger an allergic response. Polyisoprene condoms are soft, have the same stretchiness as latex condoms, and are as unlikely to break or tear. They protect against STIs and unwanted pregnancy, but condoms made with polyisoprene are thicker than some others, and some people may find them uncomfortable.

  • 5
    Condoms with Spermicide
    pharmacists advising young couple

    Some condoms are coated with a chemical substance that kills sperm and acts as a lubricant. Condoms with spermicide are intended to offer additional protection against pregnancy, but they can irritate the vaginal lining or vulva. That can lead to micro tears in the tissue, which increase the risk of contracting HIV or other STIs. For that reason, condoms with spermicide are not recommended for the prevention of infection or disease.

  • 6
    Lambskin Condoms
    Mixed race couple at pharmacy shopping together for condoms and contraception

    An alternative to latex is a lambskin condom, made with a thin membrane from a lamb’s intestine. The earliest known condoms, used during the Roman Empire, were made with lambskin. Today’s lambskin condoms are FDA-approved for preventing pregnancy and considered as effective as latex condoms. Some people say they feel more sensation and transmit more body warmth, and you can use them with oil-based lubricants. However, lambskin is porous enough to let germs though, so they are not recommended for protection against STIs. They are also more expensive, not as stretchy, and not as widely available as latex condoms.

  • 7
    Polyurethane Condoms
    close up of hands opening condom packaging

    Polyurethane condoms are made from a flexible plastic that is thinner than latex, has no odor, and conducts heat better. They are not as stretchy as latex, however, and may be more prone to slipping and breaking. Polyurethane condoms may fit a bit more loosely, but putting a bit of water-based lubricant inside the condom will reduce friction and chance of breakage. They are not as widely available as latex condoms.

  • 8
    Specialty Condoms
    Torn packaging of wrapper containing a condom

    There are many types of specialty condoms, including warming, glow-in-the-dark, flavored and colored. There are also condoms known as “pleasure-shaped,” which means they are textured, ribbed or otherwise designed to enhance the sexual experience. Not all specialty condoms prevent STIs and pregnancy, so before you choose a specialty condom, check the package label to make sure condoms are FDA-approved and read the information about STI and HIV prevention. If it does not meet your needs, choose another type of condom.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Jun 10
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