Tom Medvedich

I think we can all agree on one thing: Condoms suck. For men, they make sex feel like your penis is in a raincoat (or at least this is what I imagine, since I don’t have a penis). For ladies, the wrong condom can feel like a rug chafing your vagina. This means finding the best condoms for women by trial and error can be a painful-as-hell process—and, sadly, there’s no Consumer Reports for this sort of thing. That’s where I come in.

In the name of experimental science, I tested out some of the best thin condoms on the market that are reputed to feel good for women—all for you, friends.

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Trojan Supra

Since Trojan is practically the father of condoms, we decided to try these puppies first. Unfortunately, we didn’t get very far. They’re made of a super-thin, medical-grade Polyurethane (not latex) but were a little too small and not very comfortable for my partner, whom I’ll call J. Even though my research was focused on what felt good for me, not him, it was a little hard to enjoy myself seeing him look uncomfortable. So after a couple of tries, we tossed them. I will say they seemed thinner than most other condoms, so maybe they would work better for a different—smaller 😜 —penis.

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Beyond Seven

This drugstore brand, one I’d never tried before, was thin and relatively well-lubed, providing for excellent sensation for both of us. They’re not made of latex, but instead of Super Thin Sheerlon, which is supposedly thinner and silkier than rubber. However, compared with the winning condom brand—which you’ll get to in a sec—I’d still say these guys were less lubricated. So if condoms tend to dry you out, you may want to keep that in mind. I enjoyed them, though!

Durex Performax Intense Lubricated Ribbed Dotted Premium Condoms

Ah, Durex. It’s an old standby—lubed up and thin, thereby amping up sensation. My one big hesitation: I’ve had Durex condoms, which are made of latex, break on me before. They worked fine this time, but just knowing they’d broken twice before was a big turn-off, and their good qualities can’t outweigh their lack of safety, in my opinion. Two breaks for the same brand are two too many for me—I’m not itching for a potential life change in nine months.

Kimono MicroThin Plus Aqua Lube

No bueno, my friends. Feeling-wise, these latex ones were thin and therefore pretty comfortable, but the lube was awful. While there is lube on the Kimono condom when you first put it on, it dries out quickly. Vaginas aren’t exactly equipped for rubbery objects, so a lack of lube can feel scratchy, detracting from the feel-good sensations. And according to J., it was a little too tight, so if your partner is on the smaller side, he might like them—but average and above, and you’re likely to find the fit a little close.

SKYN Original

Have you ever tried those freebie condoms that are so thick it feels like you might as well be having sex with that raincoat I mentioned earlier? Like, you have rug burn, but on your lady parts? The SKYN Original condoms are the opposite of that. I wasn’t expecting it. These condoms were the thinnest I’ve ever experienced, and made out of a super-soft non-rubber material called polyisoprene (the brand’s claim to fame), which is perhaps what makes them so damn comfortable. Going in it felt like an unbelievably smooth and well-watered slip ’n’ slide. It almost feels like there isn’t a condom, which I think we can all agree is the ideal scenario, if you have to wear them. P.S: J. loved them as well.

Explore Methods

Between getting it on, having our periods, and just generally staying healthy, there are a whole lot of products we use on—and in—our vaginas. There’s also a whole lot of public talk about the potential risks of things we use down there. What’s the real impact of all of those products on our bodies and on the earth? We researched condoms, toys, lubes, scented soaps, and menstrual products, and came up with this handy guide for understanding how the things we put in our vaginas impact our bodies and the environment. Just in time for Earth Day.

Sex toys and lube: what should I know?

Sex toys are made of all kinds of materials, but not all of them are safe to put inside of our vaginas. Many of the more flexible “jelly” sex toys are made with chemicals called phthalates that make them soft and fun to use. The problem is that phthalates can be toxic and harmful to our bodies. As an alternative, look out for toys made from materials like silicone, glass, stainless steel, or wood. If you can, read the packaging before you buy a toy—if it contains, PVC, vinyl, or phthalates, you’re probably better off without it.

Lubes can also be made with lots of stuff we might not want inside of us. According to TIME, “Most of the personal lubricants in the US contain chemicals found in oven cleaner, brake fluid and antifreeze.” Say what? For lubes, we researched a bunch that are body friendly and will make your sex life greener. As a general rule, try to avoid parabens. As for chemical-free brands of lube, try Sustain Natural, Good Clean Love, BabeLube Natural, Blossom Organic’s Natural Moisturizing Lubricant, and Sliquid Organics.

Are some condoms better for the environment than others?

Condoms come in all shapes and sizes and can be made of all kinds of materials, though latex is most common. Depending on the type of condom and the brand, some contain added chemicals like silicone, glycerin, parabens, and petrochemicals. All condoms are safe to use as far as we know, but if you prefer to minimize the chemicals in your body and in your trashcan, you’ve got options. Companies like Sir Richard’s, GLYDE, and Sustain are now making vegan, chemical-free, organic and fair trade condoms.

While latex allergy is uncommon, some people can be sensitive to products made of latex. If you have a latex allergy, you can still use condoms made of polyurethane or lambskin. Polyurethane condoms aren’t as eco-friendly as latex condoms since they don’t biodegrade as quickly. On the plus side, they protect from STIs just like latex condoms do. Lambskin condoms (which are made of sheep intestine) are really biodegradable, but they definitely aren’t vegan—and they don’t protect against STIs. The bottom line is that if condoms are your thing, there are lots of options to choose from. And using any condom is better for the environment and your health than skipping the condom and risking an accidental pregnancy or an STI.

What about douching?

Just don’t. While lots of feminine hygiene products make it sound appealing to wash out the inside of your vagina, it can actually be quite harmful to you, increasing the risk for yeast infections, UTIs, and other health issues. It’s just one of those things you just shouldn’t do to your vagina. “Lots of different kinds of bacteria live in the vagina,” says Dr. Anne Burke, Associate Professor of Gynecology and Obstetrics at the Johns Hopkins University. “That’s totally normal and important for having a healthy vagina. Douching can upset the vagina’s PH balance and kill off the good bacteria your body needs to stay healthy.”

Even if you’re not douching, using scented sprays, soaps, and even tampons can irritate the vulva. Dr. Burke recommends avoiding scented products altogether. They aren’t necessary to keep things clean. “Washing daily with warm water is enough. If you want to, you can use a mild unscented soap, but stay away from the scented products, especially inside the vagina.” As far as environmental impact, that’s a whole host of chemicals that you won’t be washing into the waterways. The earth, your body, and your wallet will thank you.

Tampons and pads: are they toxic?

There has been a lot of research and public conversation recently about the potential health concerns of using bleached menstrual products, which may contain dioxin. So, should we avoid bleached cotton when buying tampons or pads? According to the FDA, the detectable levels of dioxin from tampons are basically at or below the minimum of what is considered to be safe, but some folks say the FDA should regulate the ingredients in menstrual products more closely.

Dr. Burke says that bleached cotton and dioxin do not need to be a big concern. “Tampons have moved away from the strong chlorine bleaches and are now less likely to produce dioxin. We can be reassured that it’s safe to use what’s on the market today, but it’s also reasonable for women to make their own choices about what they want to use.” Dr. Burke does recommend staying away from scented tampons. Like douching and fancy soaps, you just don’t need them to stay fresh down there.

If you’re concerned about dioxin, there are plenty of products that are bleach and dioxin free. Some alternatives brands include Seventh Generation, Natracare, and Organic Essentials, all of which claim to be a little more earth and body friendly. You can also try a menstrual cup, washable menstrual pad, tampons without applicators, and those super cute period panties from Thinx. As for trying a menstrual cup, Dr. Burke offers this advice: if you were comfortable inserting a tampon, you’d be comfortable inserting a cup.

“Reusable products seem more expensive up front,” says Dr. Burke. “But if you do the math about how much we spend on disposable products, you could probably make that difference back pretty quickly.” And if you think about the thousands of tampons we use in a lifetime that end up in landfills and waterways, it’s definitely worth it to consider reusable products—for your health and the health of the environment.

Looking for other ways to get sexy and eco-friendly this Earth Day? Using birth control is one of the greenest things you can do.

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The best condoms, ranked by a woman

Scanning the condom section of almost any drug store usually leaves me crushed under the weight of overwhelming choice. So many sensations! So many feelings I could feel! Do I want to chase the illusion that there’s barely a barrier there at all, or do I want to embrace the fact that I’m buying a dick sheath and go all in on sensory enhancements? Studs or ribs or spiral flutes? Latex or lambskin? Do I want to hoard all the pleasure for myself, or do I want to share it? Where’s that ultra-thin condom of the future we were promised?

We can attribute a portion of this anxiety to my sometimes paralyzing indecision, but when it comes to condoms, the promises are endless: A million new ways to make safe sex feel just as good as, if not better than, bareback. That will undoubtedly strike many readers as an impossibly lofty prospect, yet condoms are crucial: When used correctly during penis-in-vagina sex, condoms boast a 98 percent efficacy rate in preventing pregnancy (or 85 percent effective, if you are human and sometimes err). Similarly, they’re up to 99 percent effective in blocking HIV transmission during penetrative sex, when used consistently and correctly.

In short, if you are looking to avoid sexually transmitted infections during oral, anal, or vaginal intercourse, condoms are a good way to do that. So which are the ones that won’t feel like a drag, the ones you’ll actually want to use? What condoms are the best condoms?

What are the best condoms?

Over at AskMen.com, fancy, hexagon-patterned rubbers that allow for inter-partner heat transmission top the list. Men’s Health ranks Trojan’s Ultra Ribbed Ecstasy as its best all-around condom. The Crown Skinless Skin condom (although it sounds murder-y) has stolen Condom Depot’s best condom of the year award for 15 consecutive years.

Of course, what feels best to any given person is bound to be subjective, so I decided to test drive a few options myself. Enlisting a willing sex companion, I set about answering the perennial question: What’s the best condom?

My partner and I visited a local Walgreens and chose five different models from five brands, all intended for use during the course of penis-in-vagina sex. (No flavored condoms in the mix for this experiment—nothing makes me gag like the taste of synthetic banana.) We then created a very scientific rubric on which to score our selections: fit, initial feel, sensations (and how those changed when we changed positions), and how well the condom delivered on the promises plastered across its packaging. In hindsight, our picks suggest we were looking for a condom that felt like not wearing a condom at all, an oxymoronic expectation that might set one up for disappointment. Here’s how the competition shook out.

1) NaturaLamb Luxury Condoms by Trojan (aka “real skin-to-skin intimacy”)

This lambskin condom was far and away the best of all five condoms we tested. However, I’m hesitant to rank it number one: The NaturaLamb does not protect against STIs.

For my manpanion and I, this is not an issue: We’ve both been recently tested, and I have an intrauterine device (IUD). But this condom is going to be pretty pointless for many others who aren’t in a mutually monogamous pairing and are confident in one another’s health status.

Screengrab via Trojan

While my partner and I were surprised to learn that lambskin doesn’t guard against STI transmission, that’s solely because we didn’t read the packaging before making our purchase. Trojan is crystal clear about the product’s limitations, and for that reason, NaturaLamb should live up to a more responsible consumer’s expectations.

Luxurious vibes? Check—these puppies were unfortunately as expensive as their name suggests. Kling Tite™ technology to keep the condom in place? Check. Water-based lube for increased comfort? Check. Heightened sensitivity? Extreme check. After my partner rolled on the NaturaLamb, I ran my finger down his shaft and elicited a full-body shiver.
Removed from its wrapper, the Natural Lamb presented as extra crinkly and clung to itself, a slightly deeper shade of beige than its competitors but without any lingering sheep smells. Despite its more freeform appearance, my partner reported that the NaturaLamb did not feel baggy once on his penis, nor did it feel constraining or stifling upon ejaculation. For me, NaturaLamb felt thin and soft, as close to his penis as is possible to get from a condom, and in comparison to the disappointing latex number we’d tried directly before, lambskin significantly perked up sex. Both of us agreed: Out of everything we tested, NaturaLamb was as close to no condom as a condom can be.

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2) Performax Intense by Durex (aka “designed to speed her up and slow him down”)

Chosen for its amusingly mechanical name and shared-pleasure sensibilities, the Performax Intense felt better than what either I or my partner expected. The second-to-last condom in our rotation, Performax Intense is both ribbed and studded, which I enjoyed. It also felt somehow thinner, less obtrusive, than many of its competitors.

Screengrab via Durex.com
While we didn’t go so far as to time our research sessions, my partner speculated that Performax Intense—coated with “delay lubricant” (or “male genital desensitizer,” per its packaging)—may have improved his stamina. I didn’t find that the textures sped me up, although the sensations were consistently pleasing throughout. For fit, feel, and perhaps surprise factor (linked to its unassuming packaging), the Performax Intense snags spot number two on our list.

3) Skyn Original non-latex condoms by LifeStyles (aka “feel everything”)

I expected Skyn to take the gold, as ample anecdotal evidence suggested it’s hands-down the best condom for people who would prefer not to use condoms. Neither I nor my partner found that to be the case, though: Far from feeling “everything,” my partner reported a gumminess encasing his dick, which sounds emphatically unpleasant to me. Apparently, though, the penile strangulation sensations occasionally accompanying climax with a condom were lower with Skyn than with other products we tried. Apparently, this is a middling sort of selling point.

Photo via Lifestyles/SKYN condoms
From my perspective, Skyn felt softer and more natural than your average latex number, making for sex that didn’t scream “condom use” (although I could clearly tell there was something there). Descriptions applauded this product: “the next generation of condoms,” “the most natural fit and feel,” the “ticket to an experience of incredible sensitivity,” and “this isn’t just a box of condoms, this is the closest thing to wearing nothing.” But for all its self-imposed hype, Skyn felt only slightly better than any other rubber. Not bad, not the best, but certainly not the closest thing to wearing nothing at all.

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4) Double Ecstasy by Trojan (aka “feels like nothing’s there!”)

Its flashy packaging (an iridescent royal blue with a halo of magenta lasers around the product name) initially attracted us to the Double Ecstasy. Like Skyn, this Trojan outfit makes a lot of promises it doesn’t keep. “Feels like nothing’s there!” is one. “Revolutionary design” is another. The Trojan Double Ecstasy is a run-of-the-mill ribbed condom that advertises a unique “comfort shape” for “freedom of movement” that neither enhanced nor, I guess, impeded thrusting and vaginal maneuvering. It’s tapered at the base, as promised, but my partner found that tapering to be a little tight. He also noted, again, a distinctly gummy phallic feel, and found the for-him lube—“Ultrasmooth™ Premium Lubricant … for a More Natural Feel”—uninspiring.

Photo via Trojan
I, meanwhile, was promised “intensified” lubricant that “warms & excites.” My vagina didn’t feel especially warmed or ambiguously excited, outside the sensations that typically lead up to sex. While I do appreciate its ribbing, the Double Ecstasy felt, to my genitals, firmly like a condom. Its presence was clear, from start to finish, and did not “maximize” pleasure for either of us.
Another strike against it: Each condom comes wrapped in an unnecessary, outsized amount of foil, a touch that struck both of us as arbitrarily wasteful.

5) Ultra Sensitive by LifeStyles (aka “almost like wearing nothing at all”)

Although I admittedly know nothing about the history of condoms, I’m comfortable naming this the most standard condom of all time. And yet in no way did wearing it feel the same as or even comparable to wearing nothing at all.
The LifeStyles Ultra Sensitive is free of any special features, save for a “flared shape” that purportedly “enhances sensitivity for a natural feel.” On my partner’s penis, it felt more substantial than any of the items we tested. I suppose its latex scent was low, as promised, but neither of us experienced anything like “maximum pleasure.” Indeed, that didn’t come until we abandoned the Ultra Sensitive after roughly four minutes, having decided that its absolute dearth of pizzaz made it pointless for us, a pair cleared for safe condom-less sex.

Image via Lifestyles
Absent any bells and whistles, the unadorned LifeStyles Ultra Sensitive is as straightforward as a condom gets, which—my partner mused—is likely why they’re the default option in most free condom bins. And that brings up an important point: The LifeStyles Ultra Sensitive is as capable as any of the above options at guarding against STIs and pregnancy, and its lack of flash definitely doesn’t offer an excuse to forego a condom entirely.
Long story short, safe sex is always best, and definitely makes me feel more comfortable in the moment. If I had to highlight my most important takeaways from this sexperiment, they would be these: Condom packaging is aggressively heteronormative, and regardless of the product we used or didn’t, I was uniformly jazzed to be in bed with my partner, which just reinforces my belief that good sex relies far more on the person you’re having it with than on the condom you choose.

Editor’s note: This article is regularly updated for relevance.

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Condom use should be encouraged for all women with BV

Women with bacterial vaginosis (BV) should be encouraged to use condoms with all acts of sex, according to results of a recent multicenter study published in Sexually Transmitted Diseases, which found an association between detection of prostate specific antigen (PSA), a marker of recent semen exposure, in vaginal swabs and recurrence of BV. The research was a joint effort of investigators from The Ohio State University, George Washington University, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Columbus Public Health.

Study population

Ninety-six women who had been enrolled in a 24-week, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of vitamin D supplementation for BV recurrence were analyzed. PSA results were available for all 96 of these subjects, who were recruited for the original study from an urban, public, sexually transmitted disease (STD) clinic. All of the women were positive for BV at the time of enrollment, and all received treatment with metronidazole 500 mg orally twice daily for 7 days. The researchers assumed all of the women were at risk for recurrent BV during the follow-up period.

The median age of the women in the secondary analysis of study data was 26.5 years and most were African-American. Sixty percent were using no contraception, and 7% said they had used condoms with every sex act over the past 3 months. Median number of male partners was 10, and 31% of the women said they had had sex with women at some point in their lives.

In addition to being positive for BV, 9% of the women tested positive for Chlamydia trachomatis, 8% were positive for Neisseria gonorrhoeae, 17% were positive for Trichomonas vaginalis, and 2% were HIV-positive. None of the women had syphilis.

The women were interviewed about their sexual behavior at four study visits. The questions included whether they had had unprotected sex since their last visit, as well as how many times they had had sex without using a condom. This self-reported data were compared to the PSA data.

PSA marker associated with BV recurrence

PSA was detected from vaginal swabs taken at 22% of 187 follow-up visits, and recent unprotected sex as indicated by PSA positivity was significantly associated with BV recurrence. The unadjusted hazard ratio (HR) for the effect of PSA on BV recurrence was 2.15 (95% CI: 1.23-3.77). The HR was 2.32 (95% CI:1.28-4.21) when adjusted for documented BV risk factors such as sexual frequency since the last visit, age, non-white race, and current use of hormonal contraception.

There was no significant association, however, between self-reported, recent unprotected sex, either since the last visit or in the last 48 hours, and BV recurrence. Some previous research had suggested that consistent condom use was associated with a lower risk of BV, while other studies had found no or a modest protective benefit. The researchers stated that self-reported condom usage is a “flawed measure,” and that studies using biological markers of semen exposure such as PSA have routinely shown that female research subjects under-report in response to inquiries about unprotected sex or condom use. “This finding sheds light on the prior inconsistent literature linking unprotected sex and BV risk,” they wrote, “and suggests that the variation in earlier studies may relate to misclassification from self-reported condom use.”

The current results were similar to those of two previous studies using biomarkers to confirm recent unprotected sex to investigate the risk of BV recurrence, and demonstrated the value of such biomarkers to improve measurements of unprotected sex, which is a “critical exposure variable in sexual health research,” according to the research team.

Although BV is not currently considered to be a sexually transmitted infection, this study offers “strong support for the idea that BV is related to sexual exposure,” concluded the researchers. As such, they recommended that women at risk of BV recurrence be “strongly counseled to use condoms with every sexual act.”

Finally, we’re bringing you very public answers to some of your most private questions. When sexual and vaginal health concerns arise, OB/GYN and nationally known women’s health expert Dr. Jessica Shepherd wants to ensure you have the answers you need to feel at ease. As the founder of Her Viewpoint, an online women’s health forum, she uses this outlet to focus on addressing taboo topics in a comfortable setting.

Q: Can using lube cause a yeast infection or bacterial infection in my vagina?

A: The issue here really is to pinpoint what might be causing a reaction because it could be one of three things.

One thing causing a reaction could be the condoms. Is there latex sensitivity? Not necessarily an allergy but a sensitivity that might be causing your body to respond in a ceratin way.

Then the other thing is if you’re not using condoms, could it be a reaction to the actual semen? Some people have, and it’s not like it’s a bad reaction but what it causes is a change in the vaginal environment. There’s a pH which is usually 4.5. But that’s like if you were to say the atmosphere in which the vagina likes to live is in that range. Anything that sets that off, whether it’s the condoms with the irritation or the sensitivity or the semen, can change that pH in the vaginal area and therefore cause an yeast infection or a bacterial infection like that bacterial vaginosis.

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The third thing could very well be the lubricant. Sometimes lubricants have additives that could be disruptive to the vagina. Or if they have alcohol content it’s like they draw out all the moisture and therefore cause a disruption in that as well. If it’s a lubricant issue, try other lubricants like organic lubricants. There’s one that’s called Blossom Organics and it’s a natural lubricant. It really is made without all the additives that you would find in some of the other, more of the mainstream ones on the shelf. Lubricants can be water-based but there are some that are silicone-based. Those might be better for people who have a vaginal dryness issue such as post-menopausal people, or women rather.

What I would recommend for any particular patient, is if she’s using condoms, maybe try sheepskin condoms which are not as sensitive because they do not have as much latex. Also they do have non-latex condoms other than sheepskin that could be an option.

Always see a doctor about it. If you’re experiencing excessive vaginal yeast infections or bacterial infections, there are regiments that a gynecologist can prescibe that can help sort out your vaginal flora or your atmosphere in terms of the pH. But seeing your doctor when you are experiencing any changes to your body frequently, especially to the point that you become alarmed, is something that every woman should do.

Joseph Williams

Have a question for Dr. Shepherd? Email us now.

Why Condoms Are Good for Your Vagina (and Not Just Because of STDs)

If you’re a sexually active human, you should know that STD rates are higher than ever, and certain infections (like chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis) are reaching superbug proportions. This isn’t to scare you away from having sex, but when it comes to getting intimate, you need to be smart. Translation: Use a freaking condom.

But, surprise! There’s another great reason to wrap it before you tap it. Condoms aren’t just great for protecting against STIs; they might actually be healthy for your vagina too.

Vaginal and vulvar health is all about maintaining the proper pH, according to Michael Krychman, M.D., sexual medicine gynecologist and executive director of the Southern California Center for Sexual Health and Survivorship Medicine. Semen has a super-high pH, and when it enters the vagina, it can mess with the delicate balance of bacteria. (P.S. An imbalance of this bacteria might be to blame for your vaginal dryness. It’s also why you should never douche like, ever.)

“When you have a foreign body like semen, it changes your vaginal pH, and there are some women that can’t counteract it,” he says. “Then the good and bad bacteria are basically fighting, and you can get predisposed to an infection.”

Since condoms are like bouncers that don’t let semen into the healthy vagina club, they can be key in keeping this balance of good bacteria-also known as vaginal lactobacilli. In a study of 164 healthy adult women using nonhormonal birth control methods, researchers found that consistent condom use showed greater colonization of a particular bacteria species called Lactobacillus crispatus, which plays a major role in fighting bad bacteria and fostering that really cool self-cleaning thing that your vagina does, according to a 2013 study published in PLOS ONE. Researchers found that condom use was not only associated with decreased HIV risk but also with decreased risk for bacterial vaginosis, a mild bacterial infection of the vagina.

The thing is, there’s no magical ingredient in condoms that turns your vagina into a healthy garden of bacteria-condoms themselves are typically inert, meaning they won’t affect the vaginal pH, says Krychman. The real value of them lies in keeping other intruders (like sperm) out.

So besides keeping semen out of your vag by using condoms, what else can you do to keep your hoo-ha happy? First of all, get to know yourself, says Kyrchman: “Be familiar with your body and how it changes throughout your menstrual cycle so you can be aware of subtle changes in your normal discharge.” Semen isn’t the only thing that can mess with your vagina’s healthy bacteria; immune status, hormone levels, and antibiotics can all have an effect too. Second, keep the club exclusive; don’t even think about letting these 10 things anywhere near your lady bits.

Important note: while semen has the potential to disrupt the healthy bacteria in your vagina, having it present during sex is, obviously, a very natural thing. (Do we need to have the birds and the bees talk again?) So if you’re not using condoms because you’re in an STD-free monogamous relationship or because you’re trying to have kids, go right ahead-you aren’t going to have perpetual bacterial issues from forgoing a rubber. But if you’re single and should be using a condom anyway? Consider this a cherry-on-top reason to roll one on.

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