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Women and vulva owners are becoming more conscious than ever about what they’re putting inside their bodies — and for good reason.
“People are realizing that everything they put into their vaginas gets absorbed,” says Felice Gersh, MD, OB-GYN, founder and director of the Integrative Medical Group of Irvine in California, and author of “PCOS SOS.” That includes any chemicals, parabens, fragrances, and other toxins.
Is that a concern with condoms? Well, it might be for some, explains Sherry Ross, MD, OB-GYN, a women’s health expert in Santa Monica, California, and author of “She-ology: The Definitive Guide to Women’s Intimate Health. Period.”
“Chemicals, dyes, additives, sugar alcohols, preservatives, local anesthetics, spermicides, and other potentially carcinogenic ingredients are often included in standard condoms. Standard brands are not usually concerned about whether their ingredients are organic or natural.”
While most condoms are safe to use, some people may find certain types irritating or uncomfortable because of the laundry list of impossible to spell ingredients mentioned above.
The good news is there are an increasing number of brands and condoms on the market. People have the option to choose protection without the additives and extra chemicals — which gives folks one less excuse for opting out of safe sex practices.
The short answer is no. The wave of organic condoms on the market and savvy marketing campaigns may be creating a false belief that traditional condoms aren’t good enough, but they are. Don’t fret.
However, you may want to try organic or natural condoms depending on your needs and preferences.
“The goal of the condom is to prevent pregnancy, also STIs, without hormonal birth control,” Ross says. “Standard brands have been researched to prove they are safe and effective for this use for the average consumer.” But not all condoms are safe for every body.
“A small percentage of women have a latex allergy, which can cause vaginal swelling, itching, and pain during sex,” Ross says. These folks may want to try nonlatex condoms, which may be made out of materials like polyurethane or lambskin.
Organic condom alternatives (which may be latex or latex-free) often have fewer chemicals, dyes, and additives, Ross says. They’re a great option for people who have an allergy or sensitivity to an ingredient commonly found in traditional condoms. They may also be appealing to people who don’t like the way most condoms make them feel or smell, or people who are more environmentally conscious.
The most important thing is that the condom doesn’t contain the ingredient that irritates or bothers you, whether that’s latex, fragrances, or another chemical. Other than that, it won’t make a big difference health-wise if you choose an organic or traditional condom.
In addition to organic and all-natural options, consumers can also choose from male or female (internal) condoms, latex-free condoms, and other barrier methods. Ultimately, it really comes down to personal preference.
It’s just important that you do use something effective to protect yourself and your partner. But with endless options, which ones are good to try?
We asked gynecologists and doctors to share their favorite brands and products of condoms and barrier methods. Scroll down to learn more and find the best option for you (not every product on this list protects against STIs, so read carefully). Before you buy, ask yourself the following questions:
- Will this protect me from
- Will this protect me from STIs?
- Does this product contain any
ingredients that my partner or I are allergic or sensitive to?
- Do I know how to properly use this
product for optimal results?
If you try a new condom or barrier method and experience redness, rawness, or other discomfort after, discontinue use and talk to your healthcare provider or gynecologist.
With any decision regarding your sexual health, you have to weigh the benefits and potential costs. That’s why Ross emphasizes that for most folks with vulvas, wearing a condom is the better choice compared to not wearing a condom because it isn’t organic or natural.
“The condoms I recommend the most are those given out by Planned Parenthood clinics,” Ross says. “They have typically been researched to prove they are safe and effective for the average consumer.”
Simply put, when used correctly, these condoms can prevent pregnancy and STI transmission.
Plus, they’re free! So, if you’re worried about how to pay for condoms, visit your local Planned Parenthood health center.
Cost: Free, available at your local Planned Parenthood
“In my medical practice, teaching, and even to friends who ask, I recommend Sustain Natural condoms,” says Aviva Romm, MD, a midwife and author of the forthcoming book, “HormonEcology” (Harper One, 2020).
“Why? Because I know how important it is to use products that are as close to ecologically friendly — both for a woman’s body and the environment — as possible.”
“Sustain uses the most vagina-friendly ingredients possible,” Romm adds. They’re sustainably sourced, vegan, and fragrance-free.
Plus, the condoms are made from fair-trade certified latex sourced from one of the most sustainable rubber plantations on the planet, Romm says. But while the latex may be sustainably sourced, it’s still not suitable for folks with latex allergies.
Sustain condoms are free of:
Another benefit is that they’re lubricated inside and out, meaning they offer a more natural feel for both partners.
Cost: 10 pack/$13
You may know LOLA for their organic tampons, but they also make great condoms, says Wendy Hurst, MD, FACOG, who’s based in Englewood, New Jersey. Hurst helped create LOLA’s sexual wellness kit.
“I recommend condoms every single day, and when a patient asks for a brand recommendation, I say LOLA,” she says. “I like [that] the products are all-natural, have no chemicals, and come in discreet packaging.”
LOLA condoms are free of:
The condom itself is made from natural rubber latex and cornstarch powder. It’s lubricated with medical-grade silicone oil. But keep in mind that due to the latex, these condoms aren’t suitable for folks with latex allergies.
Cost: 12 condoms/$10
Note: Like their menstrual products, LOLA condoms are available on a subscription-based service. Choose the 10, 20, or 30 count.
“While the best condom is the one that you’ll use, nonlatex condoms are my favorite,” says Dr. Savita Ginde, vice president of Medical Affairs at Stride Community Health Center in Englewood, Colorado. “Nonlatex condoms are able to provide barrier method of birth control, are widely available, offer a low chance of allergy, and protect against STIs.”
Durex nonlatex condoms are made from polyisoprene. Like the SKYN brand, folks with severe latex allergies should talk to their doctor first before using them. But for most couples with mild latex allergies or sensitivities, these will do the trick.
The brand also markets these as “smelling pleasant” (which reviews confirm). While they don’t smell like tires or latex, these are a fragrance-free product, so don’t expect them to smell like flowers.
Cost: 10 pack/$7.97
Note: If you don’t have these or another dental dam on hand and are looking for protection during oral sex, Gersh offers the following suggestion: “You can use scissors and cut open a clean condom, and then use that as protection for oral sex.” If used correctly, this should offer similar protection to a dental dam, she says. Learn how to DIY your own dental dam here.
One of the best-known latex-free condom brands on the market, SKYN is a common favorite among providers, including Gersh, who recommends the brand to people on a regular basis.
Made from polyisoprene, a lab-made iteration of latex without the plant proteins that most folks are allergic to, these are considered latex-free. However, if latex causes you an extreme reaction or anaphylaxis, it’s best to talk with your healthcare provider first.
Other benefits? “They can also truly heat to body temperature for a very enjoyable and natural sensation,” Gersh says. And they come in different thicknesses and sizes. This is important, because as she says, “One size truly cannot fit all.” Good point.
Cost: 12 pack/$6.17
“I am a PhD sexual physiologist, and we always use condoms in our sex research, and I always choose SKYN condoms extra lubricant,” says Nicole Prause, PhD.
“They are nonlatex, so we know we will not face latex allergy reactions. They are really lubricated, which is essential,” she says. “An unusual reason to recommend a product, perhaps, but we’ve had a number of participants spontaneously comment also that they loved the condoms in our lab and wanted to buy, get them for personal use.”
These are similar to the other SKYN condoms on the list, but they offer extra lubrication. That said, while they’re more slippery than regular condoms, you may still need a personal lubricant, especially for anal penetration.
Cost: 12 pack/$12.67
According to One Medical primary care provider Natasha Bhuyan, MD, the first thing you need to know about lambskin condoms is that, “Since the pores of these condoms are quite large, infectious particles, like HIV or chlamydia, can travel through them, so they don’t protect from STIs.”
So, these aren’t ideal if you’re looking for a barrier method that you can use with multiple partners, someone who you aren’t monogamous with, or someone who doesn’t know their health status (or if you don’t know your own). However, Bhuyan says, “They do protect against pregnancy if used correctly.”
If you’re looking for a nonlatex condom that’s effective at preventing pregnancy, these Trojan lambskin condoms may be a good option. They’re more expensive than most other condoms on the market, but definitely cheaper than having a child.
Cost: 10 pack/$24.43
Note: Lambskin condoms are made from the intestinal membrane of lambs. This means they’re an animal product and definitely not vegan.
Female condoms (also called “internal condoms”) offer similar advantages to condoms: STI and pregnancy prevention. According to Anna Targonskaya, OB-GYN with Flo Health, a digital pregnancy predictor, “Female condoms fit inside the vagina to act as a barrier for sperm before reaching the uterus, thus protecting folks from getting pregnant. These are usually manufactured from nitrile or polyurethane and are typically slightly more expensive than male condoms and slightly less effective, with a 79 percent efficacy rate.”
While less effective than the male condom, the female condom may be more appealing for a number of reasons. “The FC2 can be a game changer for women, as it gives them the control to protect themselves against STIs,” Ross says. Some people may also enjoy sex more with a female condom.
FC2, the only Food and Drug Administration-approved female condom on the market, is latex-free, hormone-free, and can be used with both water- and silicone-based lubricants (unlike some male condoms). Plus, it has less than 1 percent chance of tearing, according to their website.
Using a female condom isn’t difficult, but isn’t taught as much in sex ed classes. This Healthline guide on female condoms may be helpful.
Cost: 24 pack/$47.95
Dental dams are sex barriers for mouth-to-vulva and mouth-to-anus contact. They can protect against STIs like:
Gersh says her patients like the Trust Dam Variety 5 Flavors best. “They can easily and readily be purchased online,” Gersh adds.
These dental dams are 6 inches by 8 inches, making them appropriate for most bodies. Flavors include:
This product doesn’t have an ingredient list, so keep in mind they could contain additives and sugar that might be irritating for folks prone to pH imbalances.
Cost: 12 pack/$12.99
The diaphragm is another hormone-free birth control and barrier method. Typically used with spermicide, diaphragms are small, dome-shaped cups that are inserted into the vagina to block sperm from entering the uterus during penetrative sex.
They’re up to 94 percent effective at preventing pregnancy when used effectively. (For more information on proper use, see the Caya instruction manual.)
Diaphragms were very popular until the end of the 20th century. Now, they’re making a resurgence with a fresh new look. Caya has redesigned the diaphragm to make it easier and more comfortable to use. You may not even feel it during penetrative sex.
However, diaphragms like Caya don’t protect against STIs. That’s why Dr. Jessica Shepherdonly suggests them for folks in committed relationships where both partners have been tested. The spermicidal gel that Shepard says should be used with the product is called Gynol II, which is organic and vegan. The gel inhibits sperm mobility and ensures that the Caya is well sealed. It won’t disrupt the vaginal pH, which means less vaginal irritation and yeast infections, she says.
While it’s a pricier option, the product is reusable. It only needs to be replaced every two years. Just make sure you clean it between uses.
Cost: 1 diaphragm/$95.22
Note: Made of silicone, it’s not compatible with silicone-based lubricant, which can degrade the integrity of the barrier. Choose a water-based lubricant instead.
You may want to consider trying out one of these expert-recommended barrier methods the next time you’re stocking up. “I just recommend folks do due diligence and make sure that they protect you from what you want to be protected from,” Gersh says.
At the end of the day, you have to think about your ultimate goal, which is usually to prevent pregnancy, reduce the risk of STI transmission, or both. So, if you have access to products on this list, great! But if you don’t, just use whatever condom you can.
Traditional latex condoms are well researched, safe, and effective. You shouldn’t have to choose between something labeled “organic” versus nothing at all. When in doubt, grab a rubber — or wait until you have one to get it on.
Gabrielle Kassel is a New York-based wellness writer and CrossFit Level 1 Trainer. She’s become a morning person, tried the Whole30 challenge, and eaten, drunk, brushed with, scrubbed with, and bathed with charcoal — all in the name of journalism. In her free time, she can be found reading self-help books, bench-pressing, or pole dancing. Follow her on Instagram.