Semi-recently, I was having an online conversation with a group of people about birth control — well, more specifically, condoms. As all of the men were talking about one of the perks of being in an exclusive relationship is not having to wear one at all, it was interesting to hear how many women say that they didn't really like rubbers either. While I totally get why men would prefer to go "cover free" (if you know what I mean) and while I also wasn't exactly the poster child for prophylactics in my past sex life, condoms have come a really long way when it comes to its thinness which enhances the sensation of sexual stimulation; because of this, it would seem that, for women, this would make using one so much more, well, pleasurable.
"Yeah, but when sex goes for longer than 20 minutes or so, condoms really start to get on my nerves" is what a lot of the women shared. As I listened more, what I realized is a lot of ladies find rubbers to be annoying because they seem to be low-key allergic to them and so, of course, it makes sense why rubbers would be triggers. Since this is a topic about safe sex that isn't discussed a ton, I wanted to take a moment to share with you how you can know if you are somehow allergic to condoms — and what you should do if that is indeed the case.
How Do You Know If You’re Actually Allergic to Rubbers?
There used to be a time when, when it came to which kind of condom options you had, it was pretty much a coin toss between lambskin (it's made from the thin lining of a lamb's intestines) and latex. While some people prefer lambskin as an alternative to latex, it is effective at preventing unplanned pregnancies and it's also FDA-approved, because it's porous (which means it's not as effective as latex when it comes to shielding you from STDs), not super stretchy, is harder to find and more expensive than latex ones, that's why latex usually tends to win out. The challenge is, if you happen to be allergic to rubber, latex ones can cause vaginal irritation and/or if you go with an oil-based lubricant in order to "reduce the effect" of the rubber-to-friction-during-intercourse issue, the oil can either degrade the potency of the condom or cause it to slip off altogether.
So, let's pause at the "allergic to rubber" point. What are some of the signs that this may indeed be what's transpiring? If during or after sex you experience itching, swelling, redness or even a slight rash, this means that you could be experiencing a mild allergic reaction to a latex condom. Beyond that, anything like coughing, sneezing, difficulty breathing, nausea, rapid heartbeat, stomach discomfort or along these lines means that something more serious is going on and you should probably make an appointment with your doctor to see what kind of treatment they would recommend.
Oh, and if you're wondering if condoms can give you a yeast infection, the answer is "yes" although that's not really because you're allergic to them; that's more about condoms throwing off of your pH (check out "Sis, This Is How To Keep Your Vagina's pH Balanced"). Whenever that happens, a vaginal infection can pop up as a direct result.
Are You Sure That It’s the Condom? Perhaps It’s the Lubricant (or Something Else).
OK, but what if you've been using condoms for years and it's only been as of late that you've not been feeling 100 percent after having sex with one? If that's the case, something that you might want to ponder is if you've changed brands and, if so, if it could be the spermicide or lubricant that the brand uses that is giving you so many problems.
As far as spermicide goes, it's what helps to kill sperm, right? Well, the active ingredient in it is nonoxynol-9 and it's got a rep for sometimes irritating vaginas. As a matter of fact, some studies indicate that it can actually cause women to be more at risk (I know, right?) for STDs like gonorrhea and chlamydia because it has a tendency to break down the effectiveness of the vaginal mucosa that helps to protect the skin that is inside of your vagina.
And lubricants? It's actually not uncommon to be allergic to the ingredients that are in them as well. If the more that you think about all of this, you do believe that it's what's in/on the condom and not the condom itself that is giving you such a headache, you might want to either go with a condom that doesn't contain any spermicide or lubrication at all. And what if you don't want a "dry condom"? I totally understand. If this is the case, you can always purchase a separate lubricant brand that you are comfortable with (silicone ones are pretty good; water-based ones are great for sex toys) or you can make some yourself. It's a lot easier than you probably think. For tips on how to go the DIY route, check out "If You've Always Wanted A 'Lubricant Cheat Sheet,' Here Ya Go".
Are There Any Other Options/Alternatives?
There's no way around the fact that when condoms are used correctly and consistently, they are 98 percent effective. And when you let it sink in that STDs continue to reach all-time highs, even if you do end up coming to the conclusion that you are indeed allergic to latex condoms, unless you are in an exclusive relationship and you both get regularly tested, that still isn't a good enough reason to not use rubbers altogether.
So, what should you do? Go with other alternatives that are on the market.
We've already touched on the pros and cons of lambskin rubbers. That said, another alternative is polyurethane condoms. The good thing about them is they are typically thinner than latex, they don't have any type of odor to them, and they absorb body heat better. So, what's the downside? Well, some people say they don't stretch as well as latex ones do, they're not the tightest fit and, they seem to break more than latex does. Then there's polyisoprene condoms. These are the kind of condoms that are made out of a synthetic rubber which means they don't have the proteins in them that standard latex rubbers do; this is good to know since the proteins are usually what result in allergic reactions. Some other cool things about polyisoprene rubbers are they're stretchy like latex and are far less likely to tear. The con is they tend to be thicker which means your partner may not get the kind of sensation he's after; in fact, he might find them to be a tad bit uncomfortable overall. And when it comes to purchasing these alternatives, where do you go? Well, if you're looking to make discreet yet affordable buys, Undercover Condoms is a site that won't disappoint.
Welp. There you have it. An article on condoms that hopefully connected a few dots so that you'll know how to switch up your safe sex game so that you can remain protected and also irritation-free. Enjoy, sis.
To learn more about all things vaginal health and wellness, check out the xoNecole Women's Health section here.
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