All About Condoms! Everything You Need to Know (and Some Things You Don’t)

How many condoms do you think are used on Valentine’s Day alone each year? More than 7.5 million! That’s a lot of lovers getting down to it – safely, which we wholeheartedly encourage. 

Condoms might not be everyone’s favorite thing, but they are still the best option for staying safe, especially with a new partner. What other super convenient option is there for both preventing pregnancy and reducing the risk of disease? You can head to the store, pick them up and you know you’re ready to stay safe AND enjoy yourself! If condoms are taking away from your enjoyment, it might be that you’re not choosing the right ones. We’ve got the lowdown on how to choose the best condoms for you and your partner, as well as a look at their origins (just for fun). As you walk through the store to buy condoms, remember: at least yours aren’t made out of fish guts!

The History of the Condom

a row of packaged red condoms in a clear package
Condoms date back to the Ancient Egyptians!

Today, there’s a whole aisle stocked with safe, effective condoms to choose from (which can be challenging in its own way). But did our ancestors have a way to protect themselves when they went gallivanting? We think of ourselves as living in the first enlightened and sexually active century, but that is far from true. People have been trying to prevent pregnancy and protect themselves from disease for the entirety of recorded history. 

While it’s not really known where the name “condom” comes from, folklore has it that a Dr. Condom worked in the court of King Charles II in the 1600s…but it’s more likely (if slightly more boring) that it probably comes from the Latin “condus,” meaning receptacle. There also isn’t any known visual evidence of condoms from thousands of years ago (as in, there are no hieroglyphics wearing prophylactics!), but it is believed that ancient Egyptians were using them back in the days of the pyramids. What does exist, though, are cave paintings from around 100 A.D., which is our earliest evidence of condom use – and maybe the first known example of dirty pictures??

Fast forward to the 16th century, and our first known published description – and even scientific trials – of condoms. The Italian Gabrielle Fallopius claimed to have invented a sheath made of linen, and he conducted trials among 1,100 men using the condom – none of whom became infected with syphilis. Score!

a gray medium sized fish laying on a table

Wait, let’s back up…linen? And that’s not the only, um, interesting material that condoms have been made from throughout the centuries. In the 18th century, condoms, which were becoming much more widely known, used, and even advertised were often made of animal gut. In fact, the oldest condom ever found has been dated to the 1640s, and it was made of animal and fish intestines. In Japan, they were often made of leather, tortoiseshell, or horn. By the mid-19th century, condoms were made of rubber (hence that old term “rubbers”), until…the 1930s and the advent of our modern-day latex condoms! Now, not only you can buy condoms in other materials like polypropylene, but there are also glow in the dark condoms, flavored condoms, ribbed condoms, shaped condoms…so where do you even start when you head to that aisle?

Get Over It and Take Your Time Choosing!

Whether you’re a man buying them for yourself or your partner, or a woman looking to be proactive about safety with her partners there should be absolutely nothing embarrassing about buying condoms. But hey, we understand if you get flustered in that aisle. Not to worry, we’re going to break down what you should be looking for when picking condoms, because the last thing you want is to come home with the wrong ones for you and your partner. And if you hate the idea of browsing the condom aisle, remember that the best invention since, well, the latex condom, is the internet! You can shop a wide selection from the comfort of your own home.

a colorfully wrapped condom wrapper with a little silver pouch next to it
When choosing condoms, you have to consider the size and material that you are not allergic to.

The first thing to think about is what you need in your condom. Consider:

  • Size – When it comes to condoms, size actually does matter. Condoms come in smaller and larger sizes, so make sure you’re getting the right one for you or your partner. This will ensure that they fit properly and have the right amount of protection (and seriously, nobody’s keeping score!)
  • Material- Many condoms are made of latex, which is actually a fairly common allergen. If you or your partner are allergic to latex (or if you’re not sure), get a non-latex condom made of a material like polypropylene or polyisoprene. 

Once those two important considerations are out of the way, you can look at all the other options. Here are more things to think about when trying to find your new favorite condom:

  • Brand- Want your head to spin? Check out all the brands of condom on the market. But unless there’s a specific brand you know you want, you don’t need to worry too much about choosing incorrectly. While you might feel safest with a trusted brand (and that’s totally understandable!), know that all condoms sold in the U.S. are FDA-approved and must meet strict federal standards. The only thing to be wary of when buying a brand you don’t recognize is expiration date (ALWAYS check that!) and the label “NOVELTY USE ONLY,” as these are not made for protection.
  • Style- Ok, want your head to REALLY spin? Now check out all of the styles of condom available. Let’s break down what you might want in your condom:a plethora of different styled condoms
    • Thin or sensitive – Condoms that feel like they’re not even there. While you might worry that these are more likely to break, that isn’t true, so there’s no increased risk. These condoms just tend to be more expensive!
    • Textured – These are those good ol’ ribbed (or dotted or studded) for her pleasure – or his, if they’re textured on the inside. These can enhance pleasure, but remember to check to see if your partner likes the feeling of these, and avoid them if either partner has any skin tears or sensitivities.
    • Flavored – You can spice up oral sex with mint, vanilla, chocolate, etc flavored condoms. While these are great for encouraging safe oral sex, you might want to skip them for vaginal sex: some contain sugar, which can cause yeast infections.
    • Non-lubricated – If you prefer a more natural feel, or want to choose your own lubricant (like a flavored one that DOESN’T contain sugar), there are condoms on the market that don’t come pre-lubricated.
    • Desensitizing – If you want to go all night, you do have the option to choose a condom with a desensitizing agent on it. Just be aware that they sometimes cause numbness, which might not be the exact feeling you’re going for.
    • Shaped – Nowadays, condoms don’t just come in all sizes – they come in all shapes, as well! Spiral, dolphin, spring action…the list goes on. If you and your partner are into experimenting, you can check these out at specialty shops or online.

Wait, Safety First!

Hopefully you’ve chosen the perfect condom for you and your partner. But before you get out there, do a safety check! Remember:a silver packaged condom in a black wallet

  • Condoms hate heat! – Never store your condoms in your glove box or wallet. Sorry, you’re just going to have to remember to carry a fresh one around if you’re looking to get lucky.
  • Some materials don’t mix – Don’t use oil-based lubricants, moisturizers or baby oil with latex condoms, as it can weaken the latex. Always use a water-based or other latex-compatible lubricant, or switch to a polypropylene condom.
  • Always check the expiration date
  • Never open a condom packet with your teeth (even if you think it makes you look sexy)
  • When to stop – If your condom breaks or comes off during sex, stop! Pull out, wash off, and get a fresh condom. Always remember to locate the condom (or any pieces of it) so you know it’s not still hanging out inside your partner (or you). 
  • Always be at attention – Put the condom on and take it off when fully erect.
  • Don’t flush ‘em! – Condoms and toilets don’t mix; always put used condoms in the trash.

So there you go! Your guide to all things safe sex. You are now armed with all the knowledge you need to confidently stroll down that condom aisle, pick exactly what you need, look the store clerk in the eye, and purchase your prophylactics so you can get down to the real business at hand. Have fun (and be safe)!

About The Author:
Cassandra Love

With over a decade of helpful content experience Cassandra has dedicated her career to making sure people have access to relevant, easy to understand, and valuable information. After realizing a huge knowledge gap Cassandra spent years researching and working with health insurance companies to create accessible guides and articles to walk anyone through every aspect of the insurance process.

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