I’m allergic to latex and I’m not on the pill. Now, before you go preaching at me to get on the pill, the pill gives me fertility issues. As I am thirty… nearly thirty-one… and would like to have children at some point before I can’t anymore, it’s imperative that I not use anything that will screw with my hormones. So no pills or IUDs for me. Doctor’s orders.
My latex allergy makes sex tricky too. First because I can’t use latex condoms. Secondly, because most men have nothing BUT latex condoms. And it’s not just a simple allergy, either. If I use latex for sex, my vagina swells up, I can’t sit down for a week, I bleed, it’s just not pretty. And no sex, even really awesome sex, is worth one of those reactions. The first time that happened, it scared the shit out of me. Several tests later, yep… latex allergy.
After my divorce, when I started dating, condoms suddenly became necessary again. Can’t use latex. Needed an alternative. So, I did a Google search. Several, actually… because I’m thorough. And I found three alternatives:
Lambskin, Polyurethane, and Polyisoprene.
So, for a lot of people, Lambskin condoms are an acceptable alternative. They’re natural-feeling (apparently). They transfer heat well. They protect against pregnancy. They are biodegradable. They can be used with oil lubricants (latex can’t). And some people prefer these over latex condoms.
The downside? They do not protect against STDs. This bears repeating: THEY DO NOT PROTECT AGAINST STDs. Meaning that if you aren’t one hundred percent sure that you and your partner are clean, these are not a good option for you.
Secondly, they are made of animal parts. Intestinal membrane, to be precise, called sheep cecum. Now, I assume that this is procured at the same time that the rest of the lamb (or sheep) is slaughtered for food. But because they DO come from animals, they do have somewhat of an odor (at least this is what I have been told by people who have used them). Also, because they are made from actual animal parts, they are more expensive than latex. And currently, they are only made by one manufacturer: Trojan – Naturalamb Condoms with the “Kling-Tite” fit.
That said, though, I don’t consume baby animals, least of all lamb, for any reason. I can’t do it… they’re too freaking cute. And I refuse to sacrifice lambs just because I need to get laid.
Also, lambskin, frog skin, alligator skin, it doesn’t matter what it is. I just feel weird about putting animal parts of any kind in my vagina. So I would have vetoed this anyway, even before I knew they didn’t protect against STDs.
Polyurethane is another alternative to latex. Made from a thin, flexible plastic, some apparently find them thinner, stronger, and less constricting than latex. Some actually prefer these to latex, though while some of my partners used them without complaint, others preferred latex to these and complained every time they had to wear them (granted, I don’t know many men who ENJOY wearing condoms of any kind, so that just may have been his way of trying to get around it). Anyway…
I’ve had partners use these several times. One of them preferred these, the Trojan Supra brand, standard size (I’m not sure if they make a larger size in these, truthfully). Another partner really did not like the way these felt (he did not find them stretchy at all – and was a little too “girthy” for the tightness of these). The third made no comment, but then I didn’t really ask, either.
One of the best parts about Polyurethane is that they protect against BOTH pregnancy and STDs… so the functionality of the Polyurethane condom and the latex condom is identical.
Now… word of warning… I don’t know how medically sound this is, and I have only just recently come to my own conclusion about these, but I have a sneaking suspicion that one can be allergic to these as well. Or, at least, have a sensitivity to them. I say this because when I was using them regularly, I was constantly having Urinary Tract Infections. Almost monthly. And we tried everything to prevent them. It could have been anything, really, that caused these… or so I thought at the time – the fact that he didn’t use toothpaste (ever) and went down there, dirty fingers, not getting to the bathroom fast enough after intercourse to urinate, the fact that he was just the wrong guy for me and when I’m with the wrong people my voices make me sick… regardless, I was having UTIs a lot. After I broke up with that guy, I didn’t have sex for several months, and miraculously, had no more UTIs either.
When I tried using them with another partner, I came down with one immediately. We switched to Polyisoprene after I had healed (more on those next) and I never got another one, but chalked it up to the first time with a new partner. Because those things happen.
Then I tried them with a third (another new partner). Got another UTI. Can’t say for sure that’s what caused it, but again, the pattern was starting to look familiar. I’ve thrown away the rest of the Supras. I only had two left. And conclusions on allergies to Polyurethane are still forthcoming, pending personal research (internet research… I’m not intentionally giving myself UTIs… I am not a masochist). But I’m throwing that out there, just for your information.
The newest alternative to latex on the market, these were approved by the FDA in 2008. Made from a stretchier, more pliable material than polyurethane condoms, and much cheaper, the reviews for this material in the short time it’s been on the market have been overwhelmingly positive. They are slightly thicker than the Polyurethane material, however, the stretchiness (and multiple sizes – get to that in a minute) has, so far, been an acceptable trade-off.
Couple of things: Polyisoprene is, technically, the same material as latex. However, the difference between them is that Polyisoprene does not contain the natural proteins which cause the allergic reaction in most people. Also, Polyisoprene, like Polyurethane, protects against BOTH pregnancy and STDs.
Now, about sizes. There is a standard size, similar to Polyurethane and the standard-sized latex condoms. Skyn, the manufacturer of the Polyisoprene condom, also makes a size that is comparable to the “Magnum” sized condoms – so if the Polyurethane condoms don’t fit, for you girthy guys out there, the Skyn Large brand may be an acceptable alternative. Partner #2 in the unintended research trials enjoyed that size more than he did the Trojan Supras (the Polyurethane condoms preferred by Partner #1).
For my part, I have noticed that Polyisoprene does not seem to cause as many UTIs when used. Granted, I combine this with urination and showers after intercourse (within fifteen minutes after intercourse – the urination is recommended by most doctors; the showers are my own addition). But even with those two steps with Polyurethane, I was still getting UTIs. With Polyisoprene, that seems to have significantly decreased.
Water-based lubricants work with both Polyurethane and Polyisoprene. There are many, many different varieties of water-based lubricants out there. Go play.
Stuff to remember:
Same rules apply for storage of these as with the latex. Keep them out of extreme temperatures. If the wrapper is torn, do not use. Do not open with scissors, do not tear the condom. If the condom is torn, damaged, or if the wrapper is damaged, throw it away and get another one. If the condom is expired, buy new ones. It’s common sense, people.
Also, ladies, I know there are multitudes of dating coaches out there that say that the man should provide the condom. I agree with this… in most cases. But if you are the one with the latex allergy, remember, most men do not keep non-latex condoms on hand. And most men have only heard of Lambskin condoms (which warrants the reminder… while they will keep you from getting pregnant, they WILL NOT protect against STDs). Meaning that you may have to bend those rules a little… better to have the proper equipment with you than suffer from an allergic reaction because latex is all he has… or worse… to go without. And nothing is more of a mood killer than having to drive around town (or walk, if you’re drunk – trust me, I’ve done this), looking for an alternative (because most convenience stores don’t have these on hand either).
So consider being prepared… if you think it’s going to come up. Better to be safe than sorry.