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Love gloves. Rubbers. Shrink wrap. Cock socks. For something 44 percent of folks are never or rarely using, condoms sure have a lot of nicknames.
That includes penile-oral sex, penile-vaginal sex, and penile-anal sex.
“Condoms don’t eliminate the risk of STI transmission entirely, but they do significantly reduce the risk,” says Felice Gersh, MD, author of “PCOS SOS: A Gynecologist’s Lifeline to Naturally Restore Your Rhythms, Hormones and Happiness.”
That’s because condoms provide less protection from STIs spread through skin-to-skin contact.
In recent years, innovators have tried to create condom alternatives, like the Galactic Cap Condom, Scroguard Scrotal Guard, and the Condom Thong, but there are currently no true replacements for condoms for penile sex.
“To any person who says sex feels less good with a condom, I’d encourage them to try new ultra thin condoms, which [many] users report feel just as, or almost just as, good as condom-free sex,” says Gersh.
Consider one of these:
- Trojan Bareskin
- Lola Natural Ultra Thin Lubricated
- Skyn Elite Condom
If you’re worried about sensitivity
If you have a penis and climax quickly, there are a few options that may help prevent overstimulation.
“For folks who are having trouble lasting, desensitizing condoms are a wonderful option,” says sex and relationship expert Jamie LeClaire, who recommends Durex Prolong condoms, which you can find online.
“There are also some good thick condom options that can help with overstimulation, such as the Lifestyle Extra Strength or Trustex Extra Strength, both of which are at about twice as thick as thin condoms,” they say.
If you’re allergic to latex
Yep, you can still have safer sex if you have a latex allergy. LeClaire recommends trying either polyurethane or polyisoprene condoms.
You can also try lambskin condoms if you’re only trying to protect against pregnancy. Find them online.
“The pores of [lambskin] condoms are large enough for infectious particles, like HIV or chlamydia, to leak through, so they don’t protect from STIs,” says Gersh.
Another option? The FC2 female condom, which you can find online. Latex- and hormone-free, this FDA-approved internal condom is slightly more expensive than other options, but offers a 79 percent efficacy rate.
If you’re tired of fiddling with it and want a mood
You know what’s hot? Not getting pregnant when you don’t want to get pregnant.
To make condom use doubly hot, try ONE condoms, which LeClair says are fun, flirtatious, and playful. Find them online.
You can also check out Maude Rise Latex, Lola Ultra Thin, or Lelo HEX which have a sensuous aesthetic.
“The most important factor in not fiddling with a condom is knowing how to put one on correctly,” says LeClaire. “So, if you aren’t sure how exactly to put on a condom and remove it, watch some videos.”
Most dental dams available online come flavored, which LeClaire says, “is great because not everyone wants to munch on latex that tastes like, well, latex.”
You can also DIY your own with a latex condom. To
You may have heard that plastic wrap can also be used as a barrier for oral-vagina and oral-anal sex, but LeClaire says, “I beg you, please do not use plastic wrap. It can easily break and break down over time.”
Plus, microwaveable wrap has microscopic holes that are used to release the steam, which viruses can travel through.
The risk may be low, but it is possible for STIs to spread through manual sex.
Gersh explains: “The hand can act as a vector. So if you touch someone with an STI and then touch your own genitals, an STI that’s transmitted through bodily fluids can transfer.”
If your partner wants to touch themselves while stroking you, ask them to use their other hand (and not to alternate).
If you have an open sore on your hand and they have an open sore in their genital area, fluid-borne STIs can spread.
For manual sex, due to size, internal and external condoms aren’t actually a functional barrier method.
However, “finger condoms and gloves create a barrier that keeps you from coming into contact with your partner’s bodily fluids,” says Gersh. “[They also] protect your partner from bacteria on your hands and nails.” Plus, easy cleanup!
Gersh reminds: “These don’t protect against pregnancy if put on a penis, but if you’re not having penis-vagina intercourse and are having manual intercourse, you’re not going to get pregnant.” Touché.
Condoms of all kinds are brilliantly engineered to fit snugly and stay on while you have sex.
So, “please, don’t try to impress your partner by trying to MacGyver a makeshift condom from household items,” says LeClaire.
Using sandwich bags, plastic wrap, aluminum foil, balloons, or any other household item won’t work.
“They won’t stay on the penis for one,” says Gersh. And, using them can actually cause harm.
The sharp edges of a plastic bag or the injurious texture of aluminum foil can create microscopic tears in the vagina. And “using a balloon can cut off circulation on the penis,” says Gersh.
Yes, you can forego barrier protection if you and your partner(s) are fluid-bonded.
But if you’re having penis-in-vagina intercourse, you may need to find another alternative for protecting against pregnancy.
Many birth control options contain hormones, but other options are available.
A form of reusable, prescription birth control for folks with vulvas, the diaphragm is dome-shaded and gets inserted into the vagina up to 24 hours before penetration.
“It’s intended to physically block the sperm in the semen from reaching the egg,” explains Gersh. When used correctly with spermicide, it’s up to 96 percent effective.
Made of soft silicone and shaped like a mini sailor’s cap, the cervical cap is inserted into the vagina with a smear of spermicide before intercourse. This prescription-only option fits snugly over the cervix and works by physically blocking sperm from meeting the egg.
The best part, says LeClaire, is that, “once inserted, you can have intercourse multiple times within a 48-hour period.” The downside is that they’re only 77 to 83 percent effective.
Available at most drugstores, the sponge is a foam-like contraceptive that gets soaked in spermicide and inserted into the vagina before penile penetration.
“The idea is that when the partner with the penis ejaculates, the sperm in the ejaculate gets trapped and killed in the sponge,” says Gersh. This single-use method is about 76 percent effective.
The fertility awareness method involves tracking your menstrual cycle to become aware of when you’re the most fertile (during ovulation) and avoiding intercourse or using an alternative method during that time.
Although it’s hormone-free, LeClaire explains, “the downside of the FAM method is that, because it takes diligent tracking and a very regular schedule and lifestyle, it’s a method that has a large margin of human error.”
The pull-out method involves withdrawing the penis from the vagina before ejaculation. As you might guess, that requires perfect timing. The CDC reports that it’s only 78 percent effective.
Hormonal birth control works by releasing a low-dose of estrogen or progestin, which keep ovulation from taking place and therefore prevent pregnancy.
The most popular method of reversible birth control in the United States, oral contraceptives are
The patch may look like a bandage, but it works by delivering a low dose of hormones through your skin and into your bloodstream. It’s intended to be worn the first 21 days of your menstrual cycle.
“You apply a new patch on the same day every week, but every third week you don’t wear a patch at all, which allows you to get your period,” Gersh explains.
When used correctly, it can be up to 99 percent effective.
Known by the brand name NuvaRing, the ring is a prescription plastic ring that gets inserted in the vagina for 3 weeks at a time.
“It’s easy to take in and out, but you’ll need to rely on other birth control for the week you aren’t wearing the ring,” says LeClaire.
It’s 91 percent effective.
Not for needle-phobes, the birth control shot (sometimes called Depo-Provera) entails going to the doctor every 12 weeks for an injection of progestin.
When used as directed, it’s 99 percent effective.
Usually referred to by the brand name Nexplanon, implant contraception entails getting a small plastic rod about the side of a toothpick inserted into the upper arm by your doctor.
Once inserted, the device can stay in your body for up to 3 years and is 99 percent effective.
Yes, it must be inserted surgically, but the procedure only takes a few minutes and doctors use a local anesthesia, so it shouldn’t be painful.
Intrauterine device (IUD)
A T-shaped device that gets inserted into the uterus by a doctor, the IUD works by immobilizing sperm.
“They are more than 99 percent effective and can remain inserted and used for over 3 years,” LeClaire explains. They can be removed at any time if you decide you want to become pregnant.
For both STI and pregnancy prevention, condoms are best. If you’re only concerned about pregnancy prevention, a healthcare provider can help you figure out the best option.
Gabrielle Kassel (she/her) is a queer sex educator and wellness journalist who is committed to helping people feel the best they can in their bodies. In addition to Healthline, her work has appeared in publications such as Shape, Cosmopolitan, Well+Good, Health, Self, Women’s Health, Greatist, and more! In her free time, Gabrielle can be found coaching CrossFit, reviewing pleasure products, hiking with her border collie, or recording episodes of the podcast she co-hosts called Bad In Bed. Follow her on Instagram @Gabriellekassel.