Scanning the condom section of almost any drug store usually leaves me crushed under the weight of overwhelming choice. So many sensations! So many feelings I could feel! Do I want to chase the illusion that there’s barely a barrier there at all, or do I want to embrace the fact that I’m buying a dick sheath and go all in on sensory enhancements? Studs or ribs or spiral flutes? Latex or lambskin? Do I want to hoard all the pleasure for myself, or do I want to share it? Where’s that ultra-thin condom of the future we were promised?
We can attribute a portion of this anxiety to my sometimes paralyzing indecision, but when it comes to condoms, the promises are endless: A million new ways to make safe sex feel just as good as, if not better than, bareback. That will undoubtedly strike many readers as an impossibly lofty prospect, yet condoms are crucial: When used correctly during penis-in-vagina sex, condoms boast a 98 percent efficacy rate in preventing pregnancy (or 85 percent effective, if you are human and sometimes err). Similarly, they’re up to 99 percent effective in blocking HIV transmission during penetrative sex, when used consistently and correctly.
In short, if you are looking to avoid sexually transmitted infections during oral, anal, or vaginal intercourse, condoms are a good way to do that. So which are the ones that won’t feel like a drag, the ones you’ll actually want to use? What condoms are the best condoms?
What are the best condoms?
Over at AskMen.com, fancy, hexagon-patterned rubbers that allow for inter-partner heat transmission top the list. Men’s Health ranks Trojan’s Ultra Ribbed Ecstasy as its best all-around condom. The Crown Skinless Skin condom (although it sounds murder-y) has stolen Condom Depot’s best condom of the year award for 15 consecutive years.
Of course, what feels best to any given person is bound to be subjective, so I decided to test drive a few options myself. Enlisting a willing sex companion, I set about answering the perennial question: What’s the best condom?
My partner and I visited a local Walgreens and chose five different models from five brands, all intended for use during the course of penis-in-vagina sex. (No flavored condoms in the mix for this experiment—nothing makes me gag like the taste of synthetic banana.) We then created a very scientific rubric on which to score our selections: fit, initial feel, sensations (and how those changed when we changed positions), and how well the condom delivered on the promises plastered across its packaging. In hindsight, our picks suggest we were looking for a condom that felt like not wearing a condom at all, an oxymoronic expectation that might set one up for disappointment. Here’s how the competition shook out.
1) NaturaLamb Luxury Condoms by Trojan (aka “real skin-to-skin intimacy”)
This lambskin condom was far and away the best of all five condoms we tested. However, I’m hesitant to rank it number one: The NaturaLamb does not protect against STIs.
For my manpanion and I, this is not an issue: We’ve both been recently tested, and I have an intrauterine device (IUD). But this condom is going to be pretty pointless for many others who aren’t in a mutually monogamous pairing and are confident in one another’s health status.
While my partner and I were surprised to learn that lambskin doesn’t guard against STI transmission, that’s solely because we didn’t read the packaging before making our purchase. Trojan is crystal clear about the product’s limitations, and for that reason, NaturaLamb should live up to a more responsible consumer’s expectations.
Luxurious vibes? Check—these puppies were unfortunately as expensive as their name suggests. Kling Tite™ technology to keep the condom in place? Check. Water-based lube for increased comfort? Check. Heightened sensitivity? Extreme check. After my partner rolled on the NaturaLamb, I ran my finger down his shaft and elicited a full-body shiver.
Removed from its wrapper, the Natural Lamb presented as extra crinkly and clung to itself, a slightly deeper shade of beige than its competitors but without any lingering sheep smells. Despite its more freeform appearance, my partner reported that the NaturaLamb did not feel baggy once on his penis, nor did it feel constraining or stifling upon ejaculation. For me, NaturaLamb felt thin and soft, as close to his penis as is possible to get from a condom, and in comparison to the disappointing latex number we’d tried directly before, lambskin significantly perked up sex. Both of us agreed: Out of everything we tested, NaturaLamb was as close to no condom as a condom can be.
- A beginner’s guide to sexting
- 15 facts you should probably know about revenge porn
- Breaking down the difference between gender identity and sex
- The difference between being polyamorous and being sneaky
2) Performax Intense by Durex (aka “designed to speed her up and slow him down”)
Chosen for its amusingly mechanical name and shared-pleasure sensibilities, the Performax Intense felt better than what either I or my partner expected. The second-to-last condom in our rotation, Performax Intense is both ribbed and studded, which I enjoyed. It also felt somehow thinner, less obtrusive, than many of its competitors.
While we didn’t go so far as to time our research sessions, my partner speculated that Performax Intense—coated with “delay lubricant” (or “male genital desensitizer,” per its packaging)—may have improved his stamina. I didn’t find that the textures sped me up, although the sensations were consistently pleasing throughout. For fit, feel, and perhaps surprise factor (linked to its unassuming packaging), the Performax Intense snags spot number two on our list.
3) Skyn Original non-latex condoms by LifeStyles (aka “feel everything”)
I expected Skyn to take the gold, as ample anecdotal evidence suggested it’s hands-down the best condom for people who would prefer not to use condoms. Neither I nor my partner found that to be the case, though: Far from feeling “everything,” my partner reported a gumminess encasing his dick, which sounds emphatically unpleasant to me. Apparently, though, the penile strangulation sensations occasionally accompanying climax with a condom were lower with Skyn than with other products we tried. Apparently, this is a middling sort of selling point.
From my perspective, Skyn felt softer and more natural than your average latex number, making for sex that didn’t scream “condom use” (although I could clearly tell there was something there). Descriptions applauded this product: “the next generation of condoms,” “the most natural fit and feel,” the “ticket to an experience of incredible sensitivity,” and “this isn’t just a box of condoms, this is the closest thing to wearing nothing.” But for all its self-imposed hype, Skyn felt only slightly better than any other rubber. Not bad, not the best, but certainly not the closest thing to wearing nothing at all.
- The best dating apps for every type of relationship
- A plain and simple guide to understanding consent
- Lelo Hex Condoms Review
- How does federal funding for Planned Parenthood actually work?
4) Double Ecstasy by Trojan (aka “feels like nothing’s there!”)
Its flashy packaging (an iridescent royal blue with a halo of magenta lasers around the product name) initially attracted us to the Double Ecstasy. Like Skyn, this Trojan outfit makes a lot of promises it doesn’t keep. “Feels like nothing’s there!” is one. “Revolutionary design” is another. The Trojan Double Ecstasy is a run-of-the-mill ribbed condom that advertises a unique “comfort shape” for “freedom of movement” that neither enhanced nor, I guess, impeded thrusting and vaginal maneuvering. It’s tapered at the base, as promised, but my partner found that tapering to be a little tight. He also noted, again, a distinctly gummy phallic feel, and found the for-him lube—“Ultrasmooth™ Premium Lubricant … for a More Natural Feel”—uninspiring.
I, meanwhile, was promised “intensified” lubricant that “warms & excites.” My vagina didn’t feel especially warmed or ambiguously excited, outside the sensations that typically lead up to sex. While I do appreciate its ribbing, the Double Ecstasy felt, to my genitals, firmly like a condom. Its presence was clear, from start to finish, and did not “maximize” pleasure for either of us.
Another strike against it: Each condom comes wrapped in an unnecessary, outsized amount of foil, a touch that struck both of us as arbitrarily wasteful.
5) Ultra Sensitive by LifeStyles (aka “almost like wearing nothing at all”)
Although I admittedly know nothing about the history of condoms, I’m comfortable naming this the most standard condom of all time. And yet in no way did wearing it feel the same as or even comparable to wearing nothing at all.
The LifeStyles Ultra Sensitive is free of any special features, save for a “flared shape” that purportedly “enhances sensitivity for a natural feel.” On my partner’s penis, it felt more substantial than any of the items we tested. I suppose its latex scent was low, as promised, but neither of us experienced anything like “maximum pleasure.” Indeed, that didn’t come until we abandoned the Ultra Sensitive after roughly four minutes, having decided that its absolute dearth of pizzaz made it pointless for us, a pair cleared for safe condom-less sex.
Absent any bells and whistles, the unadorned LifeStyles Ultra Sensitive is as straightforward as a condom gets, which—my partner mused—is likely why they’re the default option in most free condom bins. And that brings up an important point: The LifeStyles Ultra Sensitive is as capable as any of the above options at guarding against STIs and pregnancy, and its lack of flash definitely doesn’t offer an excuse to forego a condom entirely.
Long story short, safe sex is always best, and definitely makes me feel more comfortable in the moment. If I had to highlight my most important takeaways from this sexperiment, they would be these: Condom packaging is aggressively heteronormative, and regardless of the product we used or didn’t, I was uniformly jazzed to be in bed with my partner, which just reinforces my belief that good sex relies far more on the person you’re having it with than on the condom you choose.
Editor’s note: This article is regularly updated for relevance.
The Daily Dot may receive a payment in connection with purchases of products or services featured in this article. Click here to learn more.