Do Condoms Hamper Erections?
Men who blame condoms for their inability to get and keep an erection may need to look for a new excuse — or a better condom — based on the findings from a recent study by researchers at Indiana University’s Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction.
In their study of roughly 480 young men, Kinsey Institute researchers found that many of the men who did complain of erection loss experienced erection difficulties even when a condom was not being worn. These findings suggest that at least some of those with condom-associated erection problems have underlying problems that have nothing to do with condom use.
Lead researcher Stephanie Sanders, Ph.D., said that study participants with condom-related erection problems “were significantly more likely to also report erection difficulties before penetration and during intercourse when not using a condom” than those study subjects who had no condom-related issues.
Insights on Two Issues
Previewed online in advance of eventual publication in “The Journal of Sexual Medicine,” the study was undertaken to provide insights on two issues that had not previously been explored: Whether men who report condom-associated erection problems are more likely to have (1) erection problems when not wearing condoms and who may, in fact, (2) meet criteria for erectile dysfunction.
Kinsey Institute researchers recruited a total of 479 condom-using heterosexual men between the ages of 18 and 24. The study participants, who were recruited online, were then asked to complete the International Index of Erectile Function (IIEF-5) questionnaire. They were also asked to answer questions about erection problems encountered during the previous 90 days both when using condoms and when not using condoms. In analyzing participants’ responses, researchers also took into consideration demographic, sexual experience, and health variables.
Incidence of Erection Problems
Based on their responses to the IIEF-5 questionnaire and erection-related queries, 38.4 percent of the study participants were found to have no condom-associated erection problems (CAEP), while 13.8 percent had CAEP during condom application. Another 15.7 percent reported CAEP during penile-vaginal intercourse, and 32.2 percent experienced CAEP both during condom application and penile-vaginal intercourse.
Researchers emphasize that the study’s findings may not be easily generalized because its sample was very limited by design. However, within its admittedly limited sample group, the study does lead to some key observations. For example, among the men reporting CAEP, 18 to 32 percent met IIEF criteria for mild to moderate erectile dysfunction. Such erection problems often lead to less consistent or incomplete condom use, both of which are associated with an increased risk of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. This finding suggests the need to improve men’s experiences with the use of condoms, researchers conclude.
Need for Condom Skills Lessons
Researchers also found that 37 percent of the participants in the study had never been taught how to use a condom correctly. Based on these findings, they suggest that clinicians provide condom skills education when the patients they’re treating seem unfamiliar with the basics of condom use.
Findings from the study also suggest that some men with CAEP need more time to become aroused than those who report no CAEP. Researchers urge that those who find this to be a problem “should be encouraged to take sufficient time to become aroused and ensure that they receive adequate stimulation, particularly when using condoms.”
Survey of Sexual Health
Sanders was also part of a team from Indiana University’s Center for Sexual Health Promotion that a few years earlier conducted the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior. Among the many issues explored in that survey was condom use rates by age and gender.
Not surprisingly, the survey found that condom use was much more widespread among young people, particularly those between the ages of 14 and 24. Both male and female respondents were asked to indicate what percentage of their past 10 instances of vaginal intercourse included the use of a condom.
Among those 14 to 17 years of age, males indicated condoms were used 79.1 percent of the time, while females reported condom use in 58.1 percent of the 10 most recent acts of intercourse. In the 18-24 bracket, the male percentage drops to 45 percent, and the female percentage comes in at 38.7. Men age 25 to 34 report condoms were used 29.3 percent of the time, compared with 23.8 for women. Percentages for those in the 35-44 age bracket were 21.3 for men and 17.5 for women. Of those in the 45-60 age bracket, the percentages were 13.7 for men and 9.7 for women. Among respondents who were 61 or older, the percentages were 5.1 for men and 7.4 for women.
Dangers of Improper Condom Use
In an article posted at EverydayHealth.com, Chris Iliades, M.D., writes that while condoms offer a very effective — and inexpensive — means of STD prevention and birth control, improper use can lead to a number of problems. He also notes that a survey of college-age men had indicated that roughly a third of them had experienced erectile problems because of condoms. Dr. Iliades lists five common condom mistakes that men should take care to avoid.
- Using the Wrong Condom: Condoms come in varied sizes and types, points out Dr. Iliades. Condoms that are too tight can cut off blood supply and lead to erection problems, while those that are too loose can come off during sexual activity, thus defeating the purpose of wearing a condom to begin with. A condom that is not sufficiently lubricated can lead to erectile problems. However, if you’re using a latex condom that is either nonlubricated or insufficiently lubricated, use only water-based lubricant, as oil-based lubricants can cause the condom to break down.
- Bad Timing: Dr. Iliades passes along a tip from urologist Bruce Gilbert, M.D., who emphasizes that “an important rule on timing is to make sure a condom goes on and comes off an erect penis.” Trying to put on a condom before your penis is fully erect makes it difficult to put on and gets things off to a bad start. Leaving a condom on until your erection is gone can cause semen to leak out from the bottom of the condom.
- Incorrect Technique: Men unfamiliar with the proper way to put on a condom can make a number of critical blunders, notes Dr. Iliades. Such no-nos include unrolling the condom before putting it on, putting it on inside out, or failure to leave space at the tip of the condom. Not leaving adequate space at the tip can cause the condom to fail. If you’re new to condom use, practice beforehand so that you know what you’re doing when the time comes.
- Improper Storage: Condoms come with expiration dates and should be discarded when that date rolls around. They should be stored in a cool, dry place and should be discarded if they are dried out or stiff. Keeping a condom packet in your wallet or glove compartment for emergency use is not a good idea.
- Ignoring a Latex Allergy: If you or your partner experience irritation and/or swelling after using a latex condom, a latex allergy may be the culprit. Consult your personal physician and switch to a condom made from other materials.
Don Amerman is a freelance author who writes extensively about a wide array of nutrition and health-related topics.