One of the most common concerns people have about condoms is that they may reduce genital sensations, thereby making sexual intercourse less pleasurable. In fact, these fears about reduced sensitivity are one of the most frequently reported reasons people give for not using condoms consistently.1 So does using condoms truly put a damper on sexual satisfaction? According to a new study published in The Journal of Sexual Medicine, people report that sex feels just as good regardless of whether a condom is used.
In this study, a national sample of 1,645 U.S. adults aged 18-59 reported on their most recent experience with vaginal intercourse, which means the sample was almost exclusively heterosexual.2 Participants completed an online survey in which they were asked about condom and lubricant usage during that sexual event. In addition, participants were asked how aroused they were, how much pleasure they received, and whether they reached orgasm.
Results indicated that 27.5% of men and 22.3% of women reported using condoms during that event. Of those who used condoms, the vast majority of both men and women reported that it was latex and lubricated, and of those who used condoms, relatively few (under 22%) added additional lubricant to it.
Ratings of sexual pleasure did not differ between those who used condoms and those who did not—in fact, pleasure was rated as equally high in both groups. In addition, there were no differences in likelihood of orgasm, with 93-96% of the men and 64-72% of the women reporting that they reached orgasm. On a side note, participants were also asked whether they thought their partner reached orgasm and 89-93% of men thought their female partners did, which suggests to me that either a significant number of women faked it or a significant number of men just don’t know what a female orgasm looks like.
One difference that did emerge was in ratings of sexual arousal. Specifically, men who did not use a condom or any type of lubricant reported greater sexual arousal than men who used condoms (but this was only true for those who used condoms without added lubricant). Men who added lubricant to their condoms were just as aroused as the no condom/no lubricant group. Women’s ratings of sexual arousal did not differ as a function of condom and lubricant usage.
The results of this study tell us that safe sex can be just as arousing and pleasurable as unprotected sex, which means that fears about reduced sensitivity and ability to reach orgasm when using condoms may be overstated. Of course, individual experiences may vary and this study should not be taken to mean that everyone thinks sex feels equally good with and without condoms. If your experience is that condoms do seem to reduce your pleasure or ability to reach orgasm, keep in mind that there are a ton of different condoms on the market. Condoms vary in terms of size, thickness, and material, which means that you may need to do a little bit of product testing to find the right one. Also, it is worth mentioning that lubricant can help if used on the inside of the condom as well as on the outside. Some guys find that adding a drop or two of lubricant to the inner tip of the condom enhances their pleasure and comfort. In short, you may have to experiment a little bit to find a way to make safe sex as pleasurable as possible for you and your partner, but it is well worth it in the end.
1Jadack, R. A., Fresia, A., Rompalo, A. M., & Zenilman, J. (1997). Reasons for not using condoms of clients at urban sexually transmitted diseases clinics. Sexually Transmitted Diseases, 24, 402-408.
2Herbenick, D., Schick, V., Reece, M., Sanders, S. A., Smith, N. Dodge, B., & Fortenberry, J. D. (in press). Characteristics of condom and lubricant use among a nationally representative probability sample of adults ages 18-59 in the United States. Journal of Sexual Medicine.
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