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Thursday, March 25, 2010

What’s Your Flavor?

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Can you tell me if flavored condoms for oral sex still are not recommended for vaginal or anal sex?

This question has more to do with the kind of lubricant on the condoms than with the condoms themselves. All of the flavored condoms I’ve seen (and most major companies like Durex and LifeStyles make a version) are standard latex condoms. Latex condoms can be used orally, vaginally or anally and will protect against the transmission of STIs and against pregnancy.

The lubricant that’s added to flavored condoms is what makes them “flavored,” and many flavored lubricants contain sugar and/or glycerin. Sugar and glycerin can promote the development of yeast infections when used vaginally. If a woman knows that she is prone to yeast infections, then she may wish to avoid using flavored condoms for vaginal sex. Some women have no problems at all with sugar or glycerin in lubricants (as another sex educator put it to me once, “I could put Jell-O up there and nothing would happen”), and in that case, flavored condoms would be perfectly safe to use. I have not heard of any infection-related issues that can come from using flavored lubricants for anal sex. So, there you have it: Flavored condoms can safely be used for oral sex and for anal sex, and should be used for vaginal sex only by women who do not easily develop yeast infections.

I think that many people have the perception that flavored condoms are somehow “dangerous” to use except for oral sex. My college peer educators included both a lubricated flavored condom and an unlubricated mint condom in their safer sex kits, and I’ve heard reactions from students that are similar to this week’s question. “Well, you can’t really use two of the condoms in the kit unless you’re having oral sex,” they say. My peer educators choose to include flavored and mint condoms because they want to encourage people to have safer oral sex, but that doesn’t mean that these condoms can’t be used for other types of sex.

Another issue here is that it’s impossible to know what types of lubricants are used on lubricated condoms. I have many customers at the Tool Shed who are specifically looking for lubricants that are glycerin-free, paraben-free, or otherwise limit their number of chemical ingredients, either because of sensitivities to these ingredients or because they want to limit their exposure to potentially harmful substances. I have plenty of bottled lubes that I can recommend to them, but when they turn to the condom section, I have very little information about the ingredients that are used for pre-lubed condoms. Many condom companies seem to be moving toward using silicone lubricants instead of water-based lubricants on their products, which is somewhat encouraging, since silicone lubes typically do not contain glycerin or parabens. But for people who want to be extra-careful about the kinds of lubricant they come in contact with, I recommend purchasing unlubricated condoms and adding your own lubricant. Unlubed condoms can also be used for oral sex, since you know they won’t contain a lube with an unpleasant taste. Even if a condom does come pre-lubricated, it’s a good idea to add more lube anyway, since inadequate lubrication is one of the main causes of condom breakage.

Want Laura to answer your questions in SEXpress? Send them tolaura@shepex.com. Not all questions received will be answered in the column, and Laura cannot provide personal answers to questions that do not appear here. Questions sent to this address may be reproduced in this column, both in print and online, and may be edited for clarity and content.

Laura Anne Stuart has a master’s degree in public health and has worked as a sexuality educator for more than a decade. She owns the Tool Shed, an erotic boutique on Milwaukee’s East Side.