Prophylactically Challenged

Friday, June 21, 2013

Question

Dear Patrick: I recently developed an allergy to latex. Since I work on an ambulance, this was not a huge surprise. A lot of my colleagues have developed problems due to overexposure to the stuff. We have switched our gloves for a substitute, but I notice it doesn't stretch as much as the old rubber gloves. This has made me wonder about condoms. Every now and then I get the urge to have my bottom boyfriend fuck me silly. He has a nice cock even if he mostly uses it for a handle to hang on to while I ride him. I'm not going to get fucked without a condom, but latex is not an option. And a broken one is no damn use. Can I trust a plastic condom? Do they test those things for anal sex or just during hetero hijinks? Do I have any options besides “Avanti” brand plastic condoms? I know I should just go to a bigger drugstore but I'm working a lot of overtime, and I'm lazy

Answer

In the United States, you can buy condoms made from four substances. But none of them are tested or compared for anal versus vaginal intercourse. I can only give you some anecdotal responses from consumers, below, and also tell you how to figure out if any given condom might work for you.

            The oldest type of condom is a natural product made from the intestine of a lamb. These can be used with oil- or water-based lubricant. Although they are looser than the typical latex condom, they are also less flexible. AIDS activists raised concerns about natural lambskin condoms several decades ago because of the small pores found in the membrane wall. It was thought that these small openings might allow the microorganisms that cause sexually-transmitted infections (STIs) to pass through. We do know that they are effective in preventing pregnancy; sperm cannot pass through this condom. No one has done laboratory tests that would tell us whether HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, can actually slip past the protection of this type of condom—or not. They are currently recommended for monogamous couples as a birth control method only.

            The second-oldest type of condom is made from latex. These products can only be used with water-based and silicone lubricants. Baby oil, hand lotion, hair pomade, Vaseline, and other oil-based products will weaken the surface of the condom and increase the risk of it breaking. Now produced in a wide range of sizes, latex condoms are thin enough to transmit better sensation in the head and shaft. They are good barriers to both sperm and STIs. However, it is important to use them consistently (as in, 100% of the time) if you want their benefits.

            Polyurethane condoms are relatively new, having been around for only a few decades. They came on the market in response to an increase in the rate of latex allergies. They are not quite as flexible as latex condoms, and they cost more. But they can be used with oil-based lubricants—if your partner can tolerate them. (Some vaginas experience burning or develop infections after the use of some oil-based lotions or other personal care products.) Some anecdotal evidence exists that they are more likely to break during anal sex, which can be harder on a condom than vaginal intercourse. If you want to make the switch from latex to plastic, I recommend spending some time using them during masturbation so you can figure out how much lubricant you need to keep one from breaking. (If somebody else is going to be wearing the condom, as in your case, Prophylactically Challenged, you can roll one over his hard cock and then see what it takes to get it to: (a) slip off, and (b) break. Subject the condom to enough stress to break it, so you know the device's failure point. Try the condom out on your erection and, if you like penetration, put it on a sex toy as well, and then rough it up to see what it can take. See how they feel so you can detect the sensation of having one roll off the phallus, whether that's a biological penis or a well-loved toy. Be conservative in your pelvic gyrations when first using them with a partner to make sure they stay put so you don't have them slipping off or breaking. Once you are familiar with this type of condom, you may prefer it. Manufacturers say this condom is thinner than a latex condom, but some users complain that there is less sensitivity—i.e., less body heat or sensation. But don't take their word for it, see how they feel to you.

            We now have a fourth choice, condoms made of polyisoprene (a synthetic latex that does not contain the substances that trigger allergies). The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved them for sale in America in 2008. Lifestyle markets this as the SKYN condom and Durex has Avanti Bare. These products are recommended for people with latex allergies. Their flexibility is in between that of latex and polyurethane. They are slightly thicker than polyurethane condoms but they are also cheaper. They should NOT be used with oil-based lubricant. Some consumers report they are looser, softer, and stretchier than the polyurethane condoms.

            All condoms should be used with lubricant. A dry condom is more likely to break or get pulled off the penis or toy. Be aware that the nonoxynol-9 that comes in some lubricated condoms can cause irritation. At one point, it was hoped that nonoxynol-9 would kill HIV and prevent infection if a condom broke. But instead it was found that the irritation produced by this strong detergent makes people more vulnerable to STIs.

            To put on a condom, hold the tip to create a reservoir and roll it smoothly down the phallus. Any wrinkles may increase the risk of breakage, or irritate the penis. If you are having trouble getting the condom to unroll, you are probably holding it by the wrong surface. Reverse the condom and try again. Don't leave condoms in direct light or subject them to extremes of heat and cold, or friction (i.e., your wallet). Be aware that all condoms have an expiration date.

            Latex allergies occur in about 1% of the population. This condition should be diagnosed by a doctor. If you have a genital rash, blisters, or irritation, this could be an STI that needs treatment. Changing your brand of condoms may not be the right answer. Be aware that some STIs continue to spread and damage your body even if symptoms disappear, so make testing a part of your annual physical. If you are sexually active with multiple partners, get tested more often.

            If you want to use condoms but you can't afford them, be sure to check out family planning clinics and community health centers that treat STIs. They often have free condoms available to clients or anybody who wants to walk in and help themselves. Many centers have free packets of lubricant as well. This is the only method of birth control that doesn't have the side effects of hormonally-based contraceptives or the risks associated with intrauterine devices (IUDs). Some STIs can do serious harm to your health without obvious symptoms. Using a condom virtually guarantees that you won't pass one on or get infected yourself. If using condoms seems awkward to you, or you have other complaints about them, give yourself the time and space to practice with them and get used to how they feel. It's a learning experience that can have a very high payoff in terms of your life expectancy and general well-being. For example—no matter how much you dislike the feel of a condom, I can guarantee you that a case of herpes feels worse.

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