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When we talk about safe sex, the conversation usually centers around condoms and the practices that prevent sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and unwanted pregnancy. We rarely hear mention of the toxins and unwanted additives in the condoms, personal lubricants, and sex toys. But this is important information too and if it’s not something you’ve considered before, now’s the time.
And by the way, consider adding this topic to any sex talk you have with your kids. You might even ask their school to include it in the sex ed curriculum.
Toxin-free condoms are a no-brainer
When I first glanced at the ingredients and fillers in condoms and personal lubricants, I was shocked. Not that it’s acceptable to have chemicals in the products that I put on the outside of my body, but on the inside? Jeez! The skin in and around the vagina, penis, and anus is delicate, sensitive, and vulnerable to toxins and irritants. Slathering this skin with toxins is not sexy.
So, how can we simultaneously prevent unplanned pregnancies, protect against STIs, and avoid toxins on our extra-sensitive parts, without giving up sex altogether? It’s simple: make sure your condoms are made from natural, healthy ingredients — and not filled with chemicals!
Healthier condom ingredients
Below are the ingredients you should look for — and should find — on the label for natural condoms. For added assurance, you can also check the brand’s website to see what reviewers say with regards to allergies and sensitivities to their products. Personally, I found it encouraging to see how many folks no longer experienced rashes or burning on their skin, once they switched over to natural condoms.
Natural latex rubber
Sometimes when we see “latex” on the label it’s actually a synthetic latex that is made from petroleum. By contrast, natural latex comes from the rubber tree, hevea brasiliensis. And for folks that are allergic to natural latex, there is also polyisoprene, which is kind of a hybrid. This newer condom material is synthetic, however, it is derived from the same hevea brasiliensis rubber tree as natural latex… but without the proteins that can cause an allergic reaction.
If you are allergic to natural latex and wish to avoid synthetics altogether, you might consider natural lambskin condoms as an alternative. Despite the word “skin” these condoms are actually made from the lining if the animal’s intestine. As a vegetarian, they wouldn’t be my first choice — but I certainly won’t judge if they’re yours!
That said, please do note that lambskin condoms do not prevent STIs, so they are best used with a steady, monogamous partner. Also, keep in mind that lambskin condoms are known to break more often and can experience a shorter shelf life than natural latex condoms or synthetic alternatives.
Silicone is a synthetic substance made from silica (a natural mineral), carbon, and oxygen. It can be manufactured as a liquid, gel, or a rubbery solid, depending on how it will be used. For example, we see silicone in its solid form as a kitchen spatula or muffin pan. And, of course, we see it in its liquidy gel form on healthier condom alternatives, as well as on its own as a non-toxic sex lubricant.
Flavored condoms and lubes are often made with artificial flavors. Aside from being unhealthy, I find they smell like cheap candles and taste like overly processed dime store candy. By contrast, the healthier versions of oral sex lubricants and flavored condoms are made with natural fruit extracts and essential oils. Not only are these natural alternatives healthier, but they won’t make you cringe (and, in turn, mess with your mojo)!
Magnesium or calcium carbonate
This mineral ingredient helps to increase the tensile strength of the latex and keeps the condom from sticking together so that it’s easier to unroll.
This mineral ingredient protects the latex rubber from fungus and UV light. (Because it’s so effective in protecting against UV damage, zinc oxide is also a key ingredient in natural sunscreens.)
Condom ingredients to avoid
Here’s a quick list of unhealthy ingredients commonly found in conventional condom brands that you’ll want to avoid…
- Casein: This is a milk-derived protein and a common allergen. Also, you know that sour smell that so many condoms have? That’s the casein. I’m not sure if you can technically say that it puts sour milk on your genitals, but still… gross.
- Glycerin: A preservative found in condom lubricants. The glycerin converts to sugar, as our body processes it. Sugar feeds candida, making our vaginas significantly more susceptible to yeast infections. No thank you.
- Parabens: A family of preservatives commonly used in personal care products, including lubricants. Parabens are known to cause allergic reactions and disrupt hormone production.
- Nitrosamines: Known carcinogens.
- Benzocaine: This numbing agent is commonly used in gels and creams to prolong an erection. (A penis ring made from medical grade silicone would be a non-toxic alternative.)
- Petrochemicals: ‘nuff said.
- Nonoxynol-9: Kills sperm and STI-related pathogens, but is also a major skin irritant. It can also break down vaginal and anal tissues, increasing susceptibility to urinary tract infections (UTIs) and, ironically, STIs.
- Talc: A dry lubricant found on the surface of condoms. Research indicates that talc in the reproductive tract can lead to ovarian cancer, fallopian tube fibrosis, and infertility.
- Artificial flavors and GMO sugar: Commonly found in oral sex lubricants and flavored condoms.
Natural latex condoms vs. birth control pills & IUDs
Unsurprisingly, many women find their bodies don’t handle birth control pills well. Their hormones feel out of whack and many find themselves with yeast infections (candida overgrowth). To avoid condoms, they might switch to hormonal or copper IUDs, but both are known to cause allergic reactions. Plus, if you don’t have a dedicated partner, neither the IUD nor the pill can protect against STIs. So… condoms.
Here’s some good news. While doing my research for this article, I spent a lot of time reading the websites for brands that make non-toxic condoms, including pages and pages of testimonials. There are two big trends that I am happy to report:
- Both men and women, who had previously experienced rashes and other skin conditions from conventional condoms, noted that they had no adverse reaction to healthier condoms.
- Many of these men and women also reported they could barely feel the condom and enjoyed the sex more than they did with conventional drugstore condoms.
A Note on Latex Allergies
Research indicates that less than 1% of the general US population is allergic to latex. Condom makers, such as Sir Richard’s and Glyde that use non-toxic ingredients, have found (anecdotally) that many who believed they were allergic to latex condoms, realized they had likely been reacting to the fillers and chemicals used by other condom manufacturers, and not to the latex itself. Good to know!
That said, legitimate latex allergies can be quite serious. I don’t know how these folks figured out the cleaner latex condoms were safe for them, but I’m guessing it wasn’t by sliding one on, grabbing a partner, and seeing how their body reacted. If you believe you are allergic to latex, do be careful!