We've heard some pretty colorful excuses for not using condoms (a.k.a. the only birth control method that protects against STIs). Reducing sensitivity is definitely a big one. Fortunately, science is here to help put the rumors to rest and assure us that condoms may be a barrier to STI transmission, but they're no barrier to sexual pleasure.
Debby Herbenick and Michael Reece, co-directors of the Center for Sexual Health Promotion, led a team of researchers to look at data from the 2009 National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior. They wanted to learn more about how people (1,645 of them, ages 18-59) used, or didn't use, condoms and lubricants. The study was published in the February 2013 issue of the Journal of Sexual Medicine.*
Condoms and lube and erections...oh my!
The researchers behind the study learned some interesting things. A few noteworthy findings:
- Women were much less likely than men to know details about the condom they're using. Only 11% of women knew whether the condom they used was lubricated, compared to 27% of men. And only 9% of women knew what material the condom they were using was made of, compared to 24% of men.
- Everybody thinks sex is hot. Sex was rated to be pleasurable whether or not it involved using condoms or lubricant.
- Erections happen. Men said it was equally easy to get an erection whether there were condoms or lubricant involved or not.
- Lubrication matters. Men who didn’t use condoms or lubricant had slightly higher arousal ratings than men who used condoms without lube. But men who used a condom with lube had about the same arousal ratings as men who didn't use a condom.
The main takeaway here seems to be that condoms don't have much effect on sexual enjoyment overall. Given their major bonus—STI protection—that's great news all around. A secondary takeaway according to study researcher Debby Herbenick: better communication could probably go a long way in making sex with a condom better. We say: If you haven't found the condoms and lube that get your arousal ratings up, set aside some time with someone special and get sampling!
*FYI: The National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior were funded by Church & Dwight Co., Inc., the makers of Trojan condoms. Dr. Herbenick confirmed that the company had no say in what the research team published.