Q: Okay, so I’m about to make a serious decision about consummating my relationship, but I am super sensitive to anything latex and was wondering if there was such a type of thing as a cloth condom? Thanks!
A: Good for you for planning ahead about how to ensure that you practice safer sex! While there are no condoms made out of cloth, there are condoms made from materials besides latex, so you’ve got a couple options to choose from.
There are lambskin (also sometimes called sheepskin) condoms that are made from the thin membranes from sheep intestine, but it’s really important to note that, according to Naturalamb’s website, these do not prevent the transmission STIs. They are too porous to protect against viral STIs as effectively as other condoms, but they do offer pregnancy protection. So, if you’re thinking about pregnancy and STI protection, these wouldn’t be the most effective way to go, but if STIs aren’t a concern for you (if you and your partner have both been tested or you feel comfortable with whatever knowledge you have about their STI status), they could be an option.
Next, we’ve got polyurethane condoms, like these Trojan Supra MicroSheer condoms. (Damn, condom names are getting long and fancy!) They’re made from polyurethane instead of latex, and according to Columbia University’s Go Ask Alice website, they’ve shown to be just as effective as latex condoms in preventing pregnancy and the spread of STIs. Like with any contraceptive method, there are pros and cons – polyurethane condoms are said to feel thinner and conduct heat better, but according to the Go Ask Alice writers, they also tend to fit a little looser than latex condoms, which may make them a smidge more likely to slip off during sex, so that’s just something to be aware of. They also tend to be a little pricier than latex condoms, which is unfortunate, but from what we’ve heard from women who have had bad reactions to latex condoms, those few extra bucks are worth it.
Next in line are polyisoprene condoms. We only know of two options in this category (LifeStyles SKYN and Durex Avanti Bare), but they’re certainly worth checking out. Their effectiveness is comparable to polyurethane and latex condoms, and some people find that they’re even more comfortable and “natural” feeling. They also tend to be cheaper than polyurethane condoms, which is a definite plus.
Finally, we’ve got the female condom. People tend to be kind of divided about the female condom – we’ve heard the description “it was like fucking with a sandwich baggie,” but other people strongly prefer it to the other kinds of condoms we’ve listed, and one of our good friends raves about them because they can easily be used with partners of different sexes/genders. The female condom is made from nitrile, or synthetic rubber (an earlier version of it was made from polyurethane). I always have trouble describing how the female condoms looks in a way that represents it accurately, so here’s a picture of it – it looks pretty similar to a male condom but has rings at either end. You insert the ring at the closed end, and the other ring stays outside of your body so that the material covers your vulva. (For some nifty how-to videos, click here and here.) Female condoms can be kind of expensive and sometimes hard to find – if you’re near any Planned Parenthood clinics or similar women’s health clinics, it’s worth giving them a call to see if they’ve got them, and if you’re a college student or have any friends who are, you could see if the campus health center or any “wellness” type centers have them for free or at a discount. (Also, the female condom has a slightly lower rate of effectiveness than the male condom – that definitely doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use it, but it’s worth being aware of.)
If you’re thinking, “Well hey, if there are all these kinds of condoms, maybe we could use a polyurethane one and a female condom!” Don’t! Doubling up in such a way causes a lot of friction that can make it far more likely for one or both condoms to break.
We’d also caution you to beware of any condoms that are labeled “spermicidal.” Nonoxynol-9 can be extremely irritating to the vagina, so much so that they may actually increase the risk of STI transmission by making the vagina raw and more susceptible to infection. From our observations in the condom aisle, it seems to be mostly latex condoms that offer spermicidally-lubed options, but if you know that your bits are sensitive, it’s good to keep this in mind and make sure you’re not using anything with spermicide.
Also, a good lube can go a long way in making whatever kind(s) of sex you’re having with a condom even more comfortable. We talk in this post about different lube options, so have a look if it interests you!
Keep the great questions coming! (Hee.) Got a question to ask, subject you’d like us to discuss, or myth you’d like us to bust? You can e-mail us at FriskyFeminist@persephonemagazine.com or send us an anonymous message via the spiffy new Ask Us! feature here.