Everything You Need to Know About Condoms (But Were Scared to Ask)

Posted -

Condoms: You were most likely first exposed to them in a super awkward high school health class, and you probably haven’t learned much about them since. After all, it’s a guy’s responsibility to understand the ins and outs of condoms since they’re wearing them, right?

Wrong! Although it might seem a little embarrassing or weird to research, collegiettes should be just as knowledgeable about condoms as guys for safe sex, and Her Campus is here to help you learn everything you’ll ever need to know about them.

At its core, a male condom is a barrier worn by a male during sex to protect a female from pregnancy and both partners from sexually transmitted diseases and infections. Condoms are typically made of latex, polyurethane or polyisoprene so as not to create friction during intercourse.

There are also female condoms made of the same material as male condoms, though they are used less frequently than male condoms since issues can include irritation to the vaginal area and the condom slipping in or out.

The Basics

Size

Getting the right size condom is crucial so the condom doesn’t slide off or tear during sex (which would render it ineffective), so make sure to talk to your partner before buying condoms or look at a condom sizing chart. Since a guy’s member can come in all shapes and sizes, finding the right condom size isn’t just a question of small, medium or large. Make sure you check condom boxes and use charts to find a condom that’s the right fit for your partner.

Not sure what to get if you’re single and don’t have a recurring partner? The average erect penis is between five to seven inches long with a circumference of around four and a half to five inches, so buying condoms around that size is a safe place to start. You can also always try buying condoms of different sizes.

Storage

Dr. Megan Stubbs, a board-certified sexologist, also encourages collegiettes to give a lot of thought to how they store their condoms once they’re bought. “Keep [condoms] away from extreme temperatures as it can damage latex, and make sure you don't keep them in a wallet where constant rubbing can compromise them as well,” she says. A typical dorm-room drawer is okay for storage.

Usage

Additionally, Dr. Stubbs recommends being careful when opening a condom wrapper. “Try not to open condoms with your teeth; you may rip them,” she says. “Make sure you're putting it on an erect penis the right way. It's okay if you mess up; just grab another condom and start again.”

Not sure how to put on a condom? There are several step-by-step video guides online to help you learn!

Where to Get Them

The great thing about being on a college campus is that condoms are typically available for free in your residential hall or health center! Dr. Jill McDevitt, sexologist and author of Fighting the Crusade Against Sex, highly recommends taking advantage of this offer during college. “One of the nice things about [free condoms on campus] is that you get to try out different brands, shapes, sizes, colors and varieties, so that when you buy your own, you know what you like,” she says.

Are you not able to get condoms at your school? You can find them at any local drugstore, like Walgreens, CVS or Rite Aid, as well as many grocery stores and convenience stores.

“Buy in bulk!” Dr. McDevitt says. “Condoms have a long shelf life; many are safe to use for years, so buying in bulk is the economical route, like 12-, 18- or 24-packs. That way you'll always be prepared and can help out a friend or roommate in need, too.”

Condom Types

This is where it gets tricky. Condoms come in an array of sizes, colors and textures, ranging from glow-in-the-dark to scented. It can be extremely overwhelming to stand in front of shelves upon shelves of condoms trying to figure out what to buy. But don’t worry! We’ve broken down the major condom types you can start with.

Latex versus non-latex

Both latex and non-latex condoms get the job of safer sex done just as effectively; the only exception is that non-latex condoms (generally referred to as polyurethane condoms) are much more rigid and loose, so there’s a slightly higher chance that they could slip off or tear during intercourse if you’re not careful when buying or putting them on.

While most people generally prefer latex condoms, be sure to check with your partner to see if he has a latex allergy before having sex.

Lubricated versus non-lubricated

Quite simply, lubricated condoms have substances on them that are meant to make sex smoother for couples, and many can help make the experience more pleasurable for both partners. Some condoms are lubricated just on the outside, while others are lubricated on both sides, so make sure you check the box before buying depending on what you and your partner want.

Additionally, some lubricants contain spermicide or other chemicals that could potentially be harmful during oral or anal sex since it can cause irritation, so make sure you check the contents before using them.

When it comes to lubricated condoms, Celeste Hirschman and Danielle Harel, creators of the Somatica Method of sex therapy, have several tips. “For vaginal, and especially for anal sex, you will want to use extra lubricant even if you use a lubricated condom,” they say in a joint statement. “Condoms are drying, so even if you have plenty of natural lubrication, it is great to have extra just in case. Making sure there is enough lubricant will greatly decrease the likelihood of breakage.”

Textured

Condoms that have different shapes, ribs or studs offer one or both partners more pleasure. As noted earlier, the use of textured condoms depends a lot on you and your partner’s comfort and sensitivity levels, so you may need to experiment quite a bit to find what works for both of you.

Not sure what some of the lingo is for textured condoms? Typically these labels will include words like ribbed, dotted or studded, meaning that there are different shapes or bumps on the condom.

Tantric-style

The name has nothing to do with the kind of sex you’re having; it literally means that there are cool patterns (or “tattoos”) on the condom.

Ultra-thin

As the name gives away, the idea of these condoms is that they’re slightly thinner (by literally 0.001 inches) than regular condoms.

Flavored

Again, the name is quite self-explanatory. These condoms come in all sorts of flavors (ranging from a simple vanilla to a more bitter licorice). These condoms are typically used for oral sex rather than vaginal or anal sex. And be warned: the vaginal and anal areas are sensitive, so if you want to avoid serious irritation, it’s better to steer away from these while having vaginal or anal sex, especially if it’s your first time having sex or first time having sex with a particular partner.

Still confused and overwhelmed by all the condom choices? Dr. Logan Levkoff, a sexologist and relationship expert, recommends Trojan’s Double Ecstasy for first-time users who want something simple but enjoyable. “It is bulbous at the head of the penis, which means it isn't constricting,” she says. “It is also lubricated inside and outside of the condom, meaning smoothness (and increased pleasure) for both partners.”

Hirschman and Harel also have several suggestions for collegiettes. “Thinner condoms often offer more sensation,” they say. “We do not suggest you use condoms with any spermicide because they can cause irritation of the vaginal walls, making you more susceptible to STIs.”

Collegiettes Weigh In

It’s always reassuring to see which condoms other collegiettes are using, so we asked several college women to give their recommendations and experiences buying condoms!

“I think the important thing to remember when buying condoms is to relax. The first time I bought condoms was during senior year of high school, and I felt like every person in Walgreens was staring at me (when, in reality, they probably couldn’t have cared less). Remember that thousands of people buy condoms every day, so don’t be afraid!” – Jane*, Wesleyan University ‘16

“I would say do some research on the types of condoms and go with the simplest option you can find, probably something latex and lubricated, but none of the intense flavored or textured stuff. After all, you don’t want to spend the entire time with your boyfriend fiddling around with the condom instead of actually having sex.” – Lauren*, University of Florida ‘16

“There’s something exciting about starting simple and working your way up. My boyfriend and I have been together for three years, so we’ve gotten more adventurous with condom choice over that time. It was a learning experience for both of us and a lot more fun.” – Katie*, Wesleyan University ‘15

“I would actually recommend going with your partner (if possible) to buy condoms. Not only is it less overwhelming, but it’s also a great experience to learn what he buys and why, which is really important. I once tried to buy my boyfriend condoms and didn’t know that he was super allergic to most brands, so there was an awkward moment when we were about to have sex and he was like, ‘Well, I can’t use these…’ I went to the drugstore with him the next day.” – Sarah*, Florida State University ‘14

“My only bit of advice is never ever put a banana-flavored condom in your mouth. The irony doesn't make up for how horrible it tastes.” – Fiona*, Wesleyan University ‘16

College Guys Weigh In

Every wondered what college guys think about girls buying condoms, or what their tips would be when buying condoms? We asked several college guys for their opinions!

“Girls shouldn’t be nervous about buying condoms. Personally, I’ve always found it kind of nice if I go home with a girl and she has a small stash in a desk drawer or something. It takes the pressure off.” – Sean*, University of Arizona ‘15

“A lot of people forget that both partners experience a condom when having sex, so women shouldn’t feel embarrassed about buying them or weighing in on condom options. Ladies should have a say in what goes inside their bodies.” – John*, Wesleyan University ‘16

“I would recommend purchasing something very basic (latex, lubricated) if you’re a girl buying condoms for a guy. Also, keep in mind that guys have varying levels of experience with using condoms, so even if you may be comfortable with a particular condom type, your partner might not be, and that can lead to some awkwardness. I personally had the experience of a girl handing me a condom that was shaped weird, and I had no idea how to put it on without tearing it completely.” – Lucas*, University of Florida ‘16

“If you buy condoms for your partner and the guy says they don’t fit right, don’t feel embarrassed or upset; it’s all a learning experience! I once dated a girl who bought me condoms, but they were too big and she thought I didn’t want to sleep with her when I tried to explain that I couldn’t use them. I definitely wanted to have sex with her, but I also obviously didn’t want to risk her getting pregnant by using ill-fitting condoms that I knew would slip off.” – Jesse*, Wesleyan University ‘14

No matter which kind of condom you try, remember to stay positive. “Condom shopping should be an enjoying experience,” Dr. Levkoff says. “Consider the time we spend shopping for shoes, and those go on our feet and not inside our bodies!” You should take a good amount of time and care to figure out what you and your partner want to use. Communicate with your partner and you’ll be a pro in no time!

*Names have been changed.

About The Author

Lily is a member of Wesleyan University's class of 2016, where she double majored in government and sociology. She's a writer, editor, and social media manager, as well as co-founder of The Prospect (www.theprospect.net), the world’s largest student-run college access organization. In addition to her work with Her Campus, she also serves in editorial roles at HelloFlo and The Muse.