As a clinician in private practice, I work hard to keep abreast of current research in sexuality. The following post, which I am reprinting in its entirety, came to me through one of my professional list servs and was penned by Massachusetts sex therapist Joseph Winn . I found it readable, clear, and current.
“This post provides some basic information about condoms, the types of materials other than latex that are currently available, a brief outline of condom and lubricant compatibility as well as recent developments and types of barrier methods currently in development. Please feel free to pass this material along to those who may benefit from this information or use this data as a refresher!
Before reading, check out this basic “how to put on a condom” video!
There are five types of condom currently available on the market; 1) lamb skin, 2) latex, 3) polyurethane and 4) polyisoprene, or nitrile, and 5) The Reality Condom or “female condom”, and The VA w.o.w. Feminine Condom.
Lambskin condoms are made from sheep intestine, particularly the cecum. Lambskin condoms are great at preventing pregnancy and they conduct body quite well during sexual activity. Lambskin condoms are compatible with water, oil and silicone based lubricants. Lambskin condoms are also biodegradable which makes them eco-friendly! However, lambskin condoms contain pores that, while small enough to prevent the passage of sperm, are large enough to allow viruses such as HIV and Herpes to pass through the condom barrier and should not be not be used as a form of HIV and STI prevention. It’s important to note that LifeStyles Condoms markets a product called Skyn condoms. These condoms are not lambskin–they are a polyisoprene product–and CANNOT be used with oil-based lubricants.
Latex condoms are the most widely available type of condom on the market today. In terms of manufacturing latex condoms are made from the sap of a rubber tree. Latex condoms if stored and used properly and consistently are safe, strong and cheap, serving as a reliable form of birth control and risk reduction against HIV and most STIs. Latex condoms can be used with water-based lubricants. The only silicone lubricant currently approved for use with latex condoms is ID Millenium.
Oil based lubricants will destroy latex condoms and substantially increase the risk of exposure to unwanted pregnancy, HIV and STIs. As latex condoms are organic they have the undesired result of triggering allergic reactions in some people. These allergic reactions can range from minor localized inflammation and irritation of vaginal and anal tissue to full blown anaphylaxis.
Polyurethane condoms are a good alternative for people with latex allergies. Polyurethane condoms also have the added benefit of being compatible with water, oil and silicone based lubricants. While polyurethane condoms are effective in preventing unwanted pregnancies and remain a good risk reduction strategy for HIV and STI prevention, they have been shown to lose their shape and elasticity during intense sexual activity and have an increased likelihood of breaking during sex. However, if used properly and one is willing to moderate the intensity of their sexual activity, polyurethane condoms provide a good alternative to latex.
Polyisoprene, also known as nitrile, is a synthetic rubber product that does not produce or trigger allergen sensitivities commonly associated with latex. These condoms when stored and used as directed are strong, reliable and serve as an excellent method of birth control as well as HIV/STI risk reduction. Polyisoprene condoms can be used with water and silicone based lubricants. Polyisoprene CANNOT and is NOT oil-based lubricant compatible. Oil-based lubricant will destroy polyisoprene increasing the risk of exposure to unwanted pregnancy, HIV and STIs.
The Reality Condom, also referred to as the “female condom” or FC2. The reality condom is designed for internal vaginal use but has also been modified, see video link below, for receptive anal intercourse. The reality condom when correctly stored and consistently used provides an excellent method of contraception as well as good HIV/STI risk reduction. The Reality Condom is constructed of polyisoprene. Polyisoprene CANNOT is NOT oil-based lubricant compatible. Oil-based lubricant will destroy polyisoprene increasing the risk of exposure to unwanted pregnancy, HIV and STIs. The Reality Condom’s outer ring, which helps to keep it anchored outside of the body, provides greater coverage of the labia and anus during sexual activity and, as a result of this increased barrier against skin-to-skin contact, it has been suggested that The Reality Condom may provide increased protection against the transmission of HPV. However, these claims have not been rigorously studied and, as of this writing, remain uncertain.
The VA w.o.w. Feminine Condom is a second-generation internal vaginal condom. The VA w.o.w. condom consists of a latex pouch and sponge at the inserted end of the condom. The internal sponge is designed to hold the VA w.o.w condom in place during sexual activity. The internal sponge is NOT a spermicidal sponge. As the VA w.o.w condom is latex; it is NOT oil-based lubricant compatible.
For a comparison of effectiveness of female condoms see this link: http://www.thelancet.com/journals/langlo/article/PIIS2214-109X(13)70054-8/abstract
Origami condoms. Origami condoms are currently in development and are in the process of being tested by The United States Food and Drug Administration. The Origami condom company is developing a variety of condoms designed for both internal and external use, including specific products for insertion into the vagina and anus! Check out the video links below for more information!”
Some late-breaking edits:
Polyisoprene is not the same as nitrile:
Polyisoprene is a natural rubber derivative, not to be used with oil. Nitrile is a synthetic latex product (but without the latex proteins that cause allergic reactions), and are the same thing medical gloves are made of, and is resistant to oils, water and silicone.
The FC2 female condom is made of nitrile, not polyisoprene, so can be used with oil,water or silicone lubricants.
Another helpful website to consult is : Condomology, http://www.factsaboutcondoms.com/ , prepared by the American Sexual Health Association.