June 15th marks the beginning ofNational Men’s Health Week. During this time of year, health care providers and public policy makers work to heighten awareness of preventable health problems in men and boys. We’re kicking off our conversation with condoms.
AlterNet spoke with Dr. Emily Morse, sex and relationship expert and host of the podcast Sex With Emily. She told us, “Using a condom doesn’t have to be a negative experience. It can actually be a positive one. You’re not worried about it falling off, you’re not worried about STIs, you’re not worried about her getting pregnant and it actually feels good.”
As the conversation progressed, we discovered the world of condoms is more a lot more complicated than we thought. Listed below are seven facts worth knowing.
1. Size matters (but not in the way you may think)
The phrase “one size fits all” may apply to leggings and leotards but it does not hold true in the condom universe. As Morse tells us, “You know how we always say ‘size matters’? Well condom size really matters. I think that a lot of men just kind of go in [to a store] and pick a brand and say ‘Ok this will work.’ But the problem is if when we’re talking about men’s health, when the condom doesn’t work, rips off, or its too big, too small, or causing discomfort there’s more risk of STI and pregnancy.”
Society seems to place a heavy emphasis on the importance of being hung. Most guys don’t have a hard time admitting their magnum-sized cocks need magnum-sized condoms. The idea of switching over to a smaller size, however, is met with much more hesitation. But as events like Brooklyn’s Smallest Penis Pageant helps demonstrate, the party lies in the technique much more so than the size.
As Morse explained, having delusions about your condom size can put both you and your partner at risk. That’s bad. But it can also lead to embarrassing and otherwise avoidable situations. “Wait… where did the condom go?” is never a sentence someone wants to hear while having sex.
Styles like LifeStyles’ Snugger Fit are made shorter and narrow than the average condom. And there are varieties out there for guys who run big, too. Products like SKYN Large Condoms provide extra width and length to those who need it. So next time you’re walking down the store aisle, take a moment to look around and do some investigating. The perfect fit is out there.
And if you’re worried about the label says you can always take the product out of the box. As Morse said, “No one is going to go poking around your drawers.” Self-acceptance is an important thing. Penis acceptance comes part of that package.
2. Anywhere a penis goes, a condom should certainly follow
Ah, anal sex. Just because this form of sex eliminates the possibility of pregnancy doesn’t mean that you don’t need to use protection.
Unlike the vagina, the anus does not lubricate on its own, making it more prone to tearing. This can also put more strain on the condom.
Here’s the other thing about that dreadful combo: it makes the spread of STIs much more likely. Luckily, a solution exists. Morse told us that you don’t necessarily have to use different types condoms for anal sex. But you do need to use plenty of lube. Plenty.
3. Allergic reactions are not sexy
It’s difficult to determine just how common latex allergies are. But anyone who has experienced it knows that it’s worth avoiding. And distributors are helping service those at risk by producing condoms made of a polyisoprene, a “scientifically formulated non-latex material.” LifeStyles suggests polyisoprene material “provides softer, more natural feel than latex.”
If you haven’t experienced a latex allergy, consider yourself lucky. But don’t consider yourself out of the woods. Some people are born with latex allergies. Others develop them overtime. As WebMD reports, “The exact cause of latex allergies is unknown, but it is thought that repeated exposure to latex and rubber products may induce symptoms.”
Symptoms include dryness, itching, burning, scaling, and lesions of the skin. If you’re experiencing such symptoms, don’t be afraid to say something. There’s nothing embarrassing about maintaining your sexual health.
4. Parting is (not) such sweet sorrow
Condoms do expire. So next time you rip one open, make sure to pay attention to the date. As Morse told us, it might be ok to take a risk when it comes to old condiments in the fridge. But “when it comes to your sexual health, when it comes to preventing STIs, when it comes to preventing pregnancy, you really want to pay attention to the expiration date.”
Condom shelf life will differ. Some last two years. Others can last up to five. But no matter how long they last, it’s best to keep them in their packs, in a cool dry place. Morse explained, “You don’t want it in your wallet, you don’t want it in your pants pockets, you don’t even want it in your glove compartment because it could get dried out and it could speed up that expiration date. That’s important too.”
5. Getting to know your condom
It’s always a good idea to try something on before buying it. Unfortunately, we don’t have that luxury when it comes to condoms. But we can experiment with them before the big debut.
Morse tells us,“It’s important they get the right fit. Even if they have to test it out on their own while masturbating. Is it going to come off? Is it comfortable? I think we’ve all had experiences when a guy puts a condom on and he’s like ‘Ouch ouch that’s hurts! It’s painful, it’s cutting off the circulation.’ So next time you’re masturbating, try out this box of condoms, make sure they work for you. Do a dress rehearsal.”
“There’s such a large variety out there, which is good and bad, because it can be overwhelming for men. They just grab whatever’s there. But I think it’s great news for men if they take a pause and then read through what the box actually says, and just try a few. See what feels best.”
Don’t let brand loyalty get in the way of your sexual health.
6. There’s nothing wrong with a little lube.
Sex shouldn’t be neat and tidy. In fact, the wetter, the better. That’s why our bodies produce natural lubrication when aroused. But sometimes it’s not enough, and that’s ok too. The pharmacy is just around the corner.
Morse tells us, “My dream is to have a lube on every nightstand. There is such stigma attached to using a lubricant. I think still the guy might wonder, ‘is she not turned on enough,’ or ‘I didn’t do my job.’ The woman might think ‘I’m comfortable but I don’t want to say anything.’ I always think its good to have a water-based lube on hand, and it can’t hurt to get a lubricated condom as well.”
That being said, it’s important to know your product. Morse advised, “If you can’t understand the ingredients in a lube, you probably shouldn’t buy it.”
7. Women need to buy condoms too
Leading an active and adventurous sex life is empowering. But as Uncle Ben once said, “With great power comes great responsibility.” If we want to have lots of sex, we need to make sure we keep ourselves healthy.
Morse told us, “I think women also feel some shame around having condoms at their house. But they should always be prepared; women should also go buy condoms. It means that you care about having safe sex and not contracting STIs, it doesn’t mean you get around a lot, or that you’re a “slut” or whatever women worry about men saying.”
So ladies, it’s time to take control of our own sexual health. No more relying on the fact that “He said he’d take care of it.”