It's no secret that when it comes to understanding what's best for your sex life, there is no one-size-fits-all answer. Finding what you're into and what works best for your body can take some serious soul searching and lots of trial and error. But fine-tuning your preferences sometimes comes down to the details and knowing the little things, like how to pick the best type of condom for you, can make for some big sexy changes. I'll save you the awkward high school health class spiel and get to it: If you're having any sort of penetrative sex using condoms is important! Whether you're interacting with a penis, a dildo, or other toys, limiting your risk of STIs can be the best foreplay possible.
"Condoms are cheap and accessible! You can truly get them anywhere, often for free," McKenna Maness, sex educator and former education and prevention coordinator at The Santa Cruz AIDS Project (SCAP), tells Elite Daily. "They protect against STIs in a way that no other birth control methods do. Other birth control methods are great for preventing pregnancy, but you really need a physical, impermeable barrier to ensure that STIs aren't transmitted between you and your partner(s)."
Found in many places — from drugstores to sex shops to the front desk of health center — condoms are readily available contraceptives that are sometimes even passed out for free. Yet, it's not always easy to know what kind is best for you and your partner(s) "It's entirely personal preference. Try, try, try them! You can often get mixed bags from sexual health orgs — different sizes, colors, flavors, textures. Try different ones so you can find out what works best for you," Maness says.
But when you find yourself standing in the CVS aisle, half-way through a bag of Hot Cheetos and completely overwhelmed by all the condom options, Maness says to focus on size and material. "Condoms come in different sizes, materials, textures, flavors, colors, and there are both insertable condoms (sometimes referred to as "female condoms") and externally worn condoms," Maness says. "But the most important things are size and material."
When it comes to finding the best feeling condom, Maness attests that size may be the biggest factor. "I cannot stress finding the right size condom enough," Maness says. "If it's too baggy, it could slip off inside your partner, or the extra friction could cause a tear. If it's too tight, it could rupture easier, exposing both partners to STIs and pregnancy. Try different brands or sizes to get a good fit. Condoms that fit better also tend to make sex feel better!" Like buying literally any item of clothing, sizing stress is totally real. According to Maness, exploring different condom sizes can make all the difference.
"Don't be afraid to try smaller ones — let go of negative stereotypes about penis size and get a condom that will actually protect you," Maness says. "Some smaller condoms say 'snug 'slim' or 'close fit' — anything but the word 'small.' Double check the size you are purchasing. Larger condoms are also available, as are 'standard' sized ones." Cue the scene in the (otherwise incredibly problematic) 2004 movie Spanglish, where the babysitter changes the tags in the little girl's clothes to remind her she's more than a size. If you need to take the condoms out of the box or pretend they aren't the size they are — do it. What's most important when finding the best condom for you is making sure that you and your partner(s) are protected. And having the safest possible sex means giving a big "thank u, next" to toxic narratives regarding penis or dildo size.
Of course, when it comes to condom shopping, Maness says material can also be a game changer. "Materials can be latex (standard) or polyurethane, polyisoprene — f or those with latex allergies, or nitrile usually in the case of insertable condoms," Maness says. "There are different colors, flavors and textures such as ribbed or studded. These are all mostly just personal preference. Try different kinds until you find one you like! There are even glow in the dark ones!" Like most things, finding the best condom for you may take trying different kinds. If you're on a mission to find your favorite, try buying single condoms, getting a grab bag, or picking up boxes with smaller amounts before committing to a dozen or more of a type that doesn't do it for you.
Maness also says that lambskin condoms can be a popular choice, though warns against their inability to stop STI transmission. "Lambskin condoms also exist and are made of a piece of a layer of membrane from a sheep's intestine. People love lambskin because apparently they have the best sensation of any condom, but they do not protect against STIs. Only pregnancy!!!" Maness says. "If you are already fluid-bonded to a monogamous partner who you trust, you can use lambskin condoms. People say they feel great!"
If you're having sex with a partner that's hesitant to wear a condom, it can sometimes be intimidating to ensure that they do. Maness attests that finding the best condom for you and your partners can help when making condoms a non-negotiable. "Ask them if they've tried any they did like, or if they'd want to try a different material or texture or if they'd be down to let you wear an insertable condom," Maness says. And if they're still not into it, Maness suggests different ways to frame the "No glove, no love" talk. "'If you don't wear a condom, I won't be able to relax and enjoy myself at all.' 'STIs are less comfortable than a condom, but babies are more expensive.' 'Sex won't be good unless I feel safe,'" Maness says. " Or tell them, 'We could wait to have sex until we can both get tested.'"
And if you're not having sex with a person with a penis? Maness says that condoms are paramount for dildos and toys alike. "You absolutely should if you want to use the dildo on more than one person without sterilizing in between," Maness says. "People who toy-swap or like to have sex with more than one person at a time should definitely use condoms. They can really make cleanup easier too!" According to Maness, condoms can help make all types of penetrative sex safer.
Of course, no matter what condoms you find are best for you, flavored, ribbed, heated, or glow in the dark — it's paramount to be mindful about where you keep them and to always check the expiration date. "Last thing: Do not keep condoms in a hot car, or a wallet. Keep them somewhere cool where nothing can poke them. Keep them safe. Think of a rubber band that has been left in the hot dry sun. They weaken and can be more likely to break before their expiration date if you leave them somewhere sketchy," Maness says. Unlike a box of sugary cereal or any other dry food that's presumably fine a few days after its expiration, condoms past their date need to be tossed. You want to be having the safest sex you can be, so keeping your condoms out of the sun can keep you and your partners feeling protected.
When it comes to finding the best condom for you, the best thing to do is to try different kinds! If you're feeling unsure where to even start, try looking into different sizes and materials. Ribbed, fruity-flavored, lambskin, or snug-fit, the sexiest sex is safe and consensual. Finding the best condom for you and your partner(s) can be the key to having the best sex.