Condoms: the science of sensitivity

By Sarah Moses Wednesday, January 8, 2014 - 11:30
Penises are less sensitive with a standard latex condom on, according to the latest US research.

That’s the bad news. Condom-bashing guys will surely say they didn’t need scientists to tell them that. Condoms can make it harder to stay hard. But getting an erection is both physical and psychological. And the good news is that less sensitivity with certain condoms doesn’t have to get in the way of great sex.

Up to 28 percent of guys have trouble getting or staying hard when they use a condom and a loss of sensation is one of the most common complaints they have. But are the problems at least partially in their head or is decreased sensitivity to blame? The answer could be both, the researchers say.

The study was the first to look at both the physical and psychological sides to getting an erection and using a condom. The researchers used an instrument that measured how much vibration guys could feel on their penises with and without a standard latex condom on.

The 141 guys who took part were between the ages of 18 and 29, and half of them had ‘condom-associated erection problems’ (CAEPs). That means they had trouble staying hard as soon as they put on a condom or during vaginal or anal sex.

Less sensitive

The participants were less sensitive to stimulation when they had a condom on, regardless of whether they had an erection or not. And whether a penis was hard or flaccid also affected sensitivity, the researchers were surprised to learn.

Erect penises were actually less sensitive than flaccid ones. Which means that when a guy has an erection and is wearing a condom, he’s the least sensitive to his partner’s touch, either during foreplay or intercourse.

But there was no difference in sensitivity between the group of guys who had CAEPs, and those who said using a condom made no difference to their erections, the study also found. There was a range in penis sensitivity in both groups, and these findings may mean that physically guys who find condoms reduce their sensation are no different from those who have no complaints about condoms.

Sexual pleasure

But not all condoms are created equal, and the researchers acknowledged that future studies should investigate whether using thinner condoms improves sensitivity. Of course, there’s no need to wait for science when it comes to experimenting with different kinds of condoms, and many couples already know from their own experience that certain brands and types are more pleasurable than others (see box).

In any case, a little more or a little less sensitivity is far from the only thing that matters when it comes to enjoying sex. So much of sexual pleasure is psychological and has nothing to do with small differences that arise from condom use. What’s more, for many guys a little less sensitivity is a boon: it helps to prolong the pleasure for both partners.

Lots of variety between the covers goes a long way to a pleasurable sex life for both him and her, as Love Matters reported back in 2012 in How can you improve sex with a condom?


Tips for maximum pleasure with condoms

·         Use ultra-thin condoms, which increase sensitivity but are just as reliable as standard latex condoms.

·         Play around with ribbed or studded condoms to make sex more pleasure for her – make a virtue out of a necessity!

·         Give polyurethane condoms a try – they’re thinner than the latex variety and transmit body heat well.

·         Drop some lubricant into the tip of the condombefore he puts it on – he’ll feel the added sensation over the top of his penis during sex.

·         Use warming or cooling lubricant on the outside of the condom for a natural slippery feeling.

·         Strengthen your pubococcygeus (PC) or ‘love’ muscles through exercise – research shows that doing so can mean stronger erections for him and better orgasms for her.

Are condoms just cool, or are they passion killers? Leave your comment below or contact us on Facebook.

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