Any time there's skin-to-skin contact during sex—whether it be oral, genital, or anal sex—there's a risk of spreading sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Therefore, you should use condoms in almost every sexual interaction. Plus, they are 82% effective at preventing pregnancy with typical use.
Condoms come in a variety of shapes, colors, and sizes which can make choosing one all the more confusing. The good news is you can't really go wrong (as long as you grab the right size, of course).
So instead of stressing about the rubber you choose, focus on what might feel good or fun for you and a partner. Here are 11 types of condoms you may come across—and the pros and cons of each.
Standard latex condoms are the most common type of rubber and a reliable choice for preventing pregnancies and STIs. That's because latex is a non-porous material that's easy (and cheap) to produce. When you use a latex condom, avoid using oil-based lubes like:
- Massage oil
- Baby oil
Oil-based lube can break down latex, making these condoms less effective. Therefore, it's best to opt for a water or silicone-based lube when you use a latex condom.
If you notice any itching, redness, or rash after using one, ask a healthcare provider to test you for a latex allergy.
If you have a latex allergy, you still have plenty of options. This includes condoms made of:
Polyurethane and polyisoprene condoms are made from synthetic materials and protect against both pregnancy and STIs. Synthetic condoms can also function properly with oil-based and water-based lubes.
Lambskin condoms can also be used with both types of lube. They are effective at protecting against pregnancy, but they aren't recommended for protection against STIs or HIV.
Unlike external condoms, internal condoms—sometimes called female condoms—are inserted inside the vagina.
Because they are more difficult to insert, internal condoms are only 79% effective in practice. To avoid pregnancy, combine them with another form of birth control, such as:
- Birth control pill
- IUD (intrauterine device)
- The patch
The big benefit of internal condoms is that they provide those with vaginas greater control over their sexual health. Plus, you can insert them up to eight hours before sex, so you don't have to pause for a condom break in the heat of the moment.
Just make sure not to use them with external condoms because that increases the risk of breakage for both.
Lambskin condoms are made from the lining of animal intestines. While the material may feel more natural or increase sensitivity during sex, it's also much more porous.
The holes in lambskin are large enough that some STIs, like HIV or herpes, can pass right on through. Therefore, they don't protect against STIs and are much less effective at preventing pregnancy. So unless they're the only condom present, it's best to skip over these products.
Flavored condoms are an easy way to add a bit of novelty to the bedroom, especially if you or a partner dislike the taste of latex during oral sex. Plus, they're essentially the same as good ol' latex condoms— except one's covered in a tasty coating.
These condoms are also safe for vaginal sex, but if you notice any vaginal irritation, switch to a different type of condom next time.
Your friend bought you a whole box of glow-in-the-dark condoms as a joke gift for your birthday, but they're not actually safe to use, right?
Turns out, glow-in-the-dark condoms are typically made from latex. So they're just as effective as your average condom. It all comes down to personal preference; it's not a safety issue.
If you're perusing the condom aisle, you may see some boxes claim to enhance pleasure thanks to their unique design and shape. More often than not that signifies that their sheaths are ribbed, meaning they have additional texture on the outside.
The placement of these ribs are designed to add stimulation and, depending on their placement, may be enjoyable for either partner. However, if your genitals are quite sensitive, you may find ribbed or other textured condoms agitating. One way you can reduce the friction is with lube.
Some condoms include spermicide, a chemical substance that immobilizes and destroys sperm. On its own, the substance is 79% effective at preventing pregnancy and comes in different forms, including:
The chemical may cause irritation or an allergic reaction, so it's probably best to stick to spermicide-free sheaths.
Thin or Ultra-thin Condoms
Thin or ultra-thin condoms are exactly what they sound like: a condom with slightly less material. Therefore, many people tout them as the most-preferred barrier method of contraception because they don't totally reduce sensation.
But does thinner material mean they're more likely to break? Not necessarily. Condoms usually break because of heat, friction, and using oil-based lube.
These types of latex condoms have lube built right in. Therefore, you don't have to worry about bringing your own or figuring out if your lube is okay to use with this latex condom (remember how oil-based lubes can break down latex?).
Lubricated condoms also reduce friction from vaginal dryness. This can prevent irritation, and it can prevent the condom from tearing or breaking.
Thanks to the addition of a specially formulated lubricant, these type of condoms provide a "tingling" sensation for one or both partners. Some people say this subtle prickle is incredibly pleasant, while others may find it uncomfortable or barely notice it at all—it's all a matter of personal preference.
Plus, most versions of this rubber use minty lube to achieve the desired effect, meaning it may also taste or smell better than a regular latex condom.
A Quick Review
Condoms can be made from different materials like latex, nitrile, and lambskin. There are also fun, novelty condoms that glow in the dark or are coated with a flavoring. If you are irritated by a specific type of condom, it may be best to try a different condom or another form of birth control.
While each type of condom has its own pros and cons, it ultimately comes down to what is best for you and your partner.
World Health Organization. Sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
US Food and Drug Administration. Birth control.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Contraception.
MedlinePlus. Latex allergy.
Yah CS, Simate GS, Hlangothi P, Somai BM. Nanotechnology and the future of condoms in the prevention of sexually transmitted infections. Ann Afr Med. 2018;17(2):49-57. doi:10.4103/aam.aam_32_17
Mahdy H, Shaeffer AD, McNabb DM. Condoms. In: StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing; 2022.
American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology. Latex allergy.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Female (internal) condom use.
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Barrier methods of birth control: spermicide, condom, sponge, diaphragm, and cervical cap.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Male (external) condom use.