>Oh, the earnestness! Sure, there's practical advice, but don't you love how I acted all experienced and shit? Nothing's more erotic than Consumer Reports. Yeah.

Taking a safe route with condoms
The Washington Square News
Thursday, September 21, 1995

“Yesterday in Egypt, archaeologists discovered the burial site of the 50 children of Ramses II... Fifty children! What I want to know is, who decided to name a condom after this guy?”
- Conan O’Brien on “Late Night”

While Conan O’Brien’s quote is certainly funny, his comment is also quite timely. The larger question behind O’Brien’s witticism is this: while we are continually beseeched to use condoms to prevent the spread of disease and pregnancy, no one bothers to tell people which condoms are the most effective. Even booklets that safe sex institutes distribute do not answer this question. One might assume that since using a condom is better than using nothing at all, that it really should not matter which kind one uses. However, it does make a big difference.

To begin with, condoms, when used properly and consistently, only fail approximately two or three percent of the time. When condoms are used with a vaginal spermicide, the failure rate is even lower. Koromex was recommended by a gynecologist. However, she also said that as long as the spermicide contained Nonoxynol-9 it does not make that much of a difference. Unfortunately, most people do not use condoms correctly and/or consistently, and as a result, the failure rate is commonly held to be 12 percent. Hence it is important to use them both consistently and properly for maximum protection.

If either partner is allergic to latex, use the new polyurethane condoms instead of those made with animal skin, which by nature have tiny holes. Gay men may want to use a lubricant with the spremicide Nonoxynol-9 (water-based lubes only; oil breaks down latex) as an extra precaution as well. To use a condom wisely, the following advice is offered: Read all instructions on the condom box. Open the individual packet gently only when you are ready to use it. If it looks discolored, or feels sticky or brittle, do not use it. It is spoiled. If there is no reservoir tip in the condom, make sure you leave a half-inch space at the end to collect semen. Roll it on, and squeeze the air out. Remove the condom after ejaculation while the penis is still erect to prevent spillage. Remember, only proper use of a condom, along with a separate spermicide, can greatly reduce the chance of pregnancy or the spread of STDs.

As for which brands of condoms are best, Consumer Reports tested 37 brands for breakage and leakage rates. It is scary to note that Trojans, the brand most often used in the U.S., has 6 varieties that failed breakage tests (air-inflation tests). These types are: Trojan Extra Strengths (!), Trojan Mentors, Trojan Plus, Trojan Very Thin, Trojan-Enz, and Trojan Non-Lubricated. Another condom that failed CR’s tests was LifeStyles Ultra Sensitive. (Friends have also reported high breakage rates with these, so stay away!) On the flip side, the three best condoms were Excita Extra Ultra-Ribbed with spermicide (which, incidentally, has been since renamed Sheik Excita Extra Ribbed), Ramses Extra Ribbed with spermicide (so much for O’Brien’s theory), and Sheik Elite (renamed Sheik Classic). All three passed CR’s stringent tests with perfect scores. Unfortunately, Exita and Ramses Extra Ribbed carry slightly higher price tags, but what’s a few extra cents when your life may be on the line? The good news is the Sheik Elite are the ones given out by NYU dorms and the Health Center for free. Keep in mind, though, that spermicide on a condom should not replace a separate spermicide.

On a more intimate testing basis, Anka Radakovich, the sex columnist for Details magazine, also reported on prophylactics. She noted that Bareback condoms lives up to its motto. (“You’ll hardly know it’s there. It’s like wearing nothing at all.”) Needless to say, it broke. Radakovich says that the LifeStyles Vibra-Ribbed condom, which incidentally tested very well in Consumer Reports and should not be confused with LifeStyles Ultra Sensitive, made her feel as if she was “being pumped while driving over speed bumps.” What a turn on!

Kimono condoms tend to be rather small, and thus the plus size is recommended for men who are well endowed. Radakovich also tested Reality, the female condom. The company that produces Reality claims that when used properly and consistently, it has a failure rate of 5 percent. It is made of polyurethane and has two flexible rings at either end. Reality can be inserted up to eight hours before intercourse and Radakovich says it is “filled with a gooey, dripping lubrication made from silicone.” She also reports that Reality makes noise when it is used and after the act was done, “pulling it out was like pulling out a water balloon filled with man-splooge. Twisting the outer ring has the same feeling as closing a lawn and garden bag with a twist tie.” Enough said.

It may also be helpful to note that polyurethane is supposedly more resistant to tears than latex, and male condoms made from it, under the name Avanti, are available. Now that you know which condoms are the best, you have no excuses not to use them. They are relatively cheap forms of birth control and protection from diseases and are easy to obtain. Also, they can be quite erotic when included in sexual foreplay. Practice putting condoms on beforehand in a comfortable place where you have plenty of time to yourself. Condoms do not necessarily take the spontaneity out of sex. And they can even be fun. Use them.