Condoms are the only form of contraception that protect against STIs and unwanted pregnancy. Although most people have no problems using condoms, a small proportion of people can be allergic to them. Here’s what to do if you think you might be one of them.
An allergic reaction to condoms can be felt by the person wearing the condom or the person they’re having sex with. The most common reasons for this reaction is either an allergy to the latex the condom is made from, or an allergy to an added ingredient such as spermicide.
Itchy, red or swollen skin during and after sex is the main sign that you may be allergic to condoms. Rashes can appear anywhere the condom has touched the skin, and in more severe cases may also show up on other parts of the body, along with a runny nose, itchy eyes and scratchy throat.
The first step is trying to work out what’s causing the reaction. Is it the latex? The spermicide? The lubricant you’re using? Or a different irritant, like thrush?
The most common allergy is to latex, so the first step is to try out some non-latex condoms, usually made from polyurethane (a type of plastic) or polyisoprene (a synthetic rubber). Most of the major condom brands offer non-latex variations so grab a few and see what works for you.
If it’s not the latex that’s causing the reaction, the next step is to try a condom without spermicide. Again, there are lots of options out there. Look for the packets that say ‘non-spermicidal’ and do not list ‘nonoxynol-9’ as an ingredient.
If there’s still no joy, it’s worth taking a look at the lubricant you’re using. A lot of people use lubricants to make sex feel better, but some ingredients may not suit everyone. For people with sensitive skin, lubes with a shorter list of ingredients are less likely to cause problems.
REMEMBER: Only use water-based or silicone lubricants with condoms. NEVER use anything oil-based such as Vaseline, petroleum jelly, cooking oils, butter, or body lotion as it can increase the chance of condom breakage.
If you’re concerned about your reaction to condoms you should absolutely see a doctor. Especially if you’ve tried switching up the condoms you’re using and you’re still having problems.
The doctor may want to check if there’s another explanation for your symptoms. Thrush is a common infection that can cause a similar irritation around the genitals.