Names like MAXX, Comfort XL and Avanti Ultima might beckon from the condom shelf, but a University of Kentucky researcher has found that it's fit, not size, that matters most when it comes to condoms.
Nearly half of the 436 men — ages 18 to 67 — surveyed in the study published in the journal Sexually Transmitted Infections were significantly more likely to report breakage or slippage when condoms don't fit properly.
That statistic is "pretty incredible," said Dr. Richard A. Crosby, a DDI endowed professor in the College of Public Health, who has seen his findings touted in news stories around the world.
Men are just not finding the right fit, Crosby said. And not only does that increase the risk of pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease but, well, it makes sex not all that much fun.
"If someone is taking the time to buy a condom and use it, they might as well make sure it fits," he said. "Let's face it, it's also about enjoying sex. That's why people are having sex."
The study reported a number of problems in reaching orgasms and losing an erection because of ill fit, Crosby said.
"We found it over and over that sexual pleasure is compromised when condoms don't fit correctly," he said.
Finding the correct fit can be a challenge. First, you have to recognize poor fit and be willing to do something about it.
"You wouldn't walk across the street in a pair of shoes that didn't fit correctly," he said.
Plus, supplies are limited. The places where most people buy condoms — Wal-Mart and drug stores — are motivated by a business model that needs to maximize shelf space, so they offer few varieties. To complicate things further, there is no standard sizing for condoms. Trojan's Magnum might not necessarily be larger than the Snugger offered by Lifestyles. And there wouldn't be anything on the package to indicate what size the product is really intended for.
And a lot of people don't know that condoms really do come in sizes, said Sarah Alleyne, HIV prevention specialist with the Lexington-Fayette County Health Department.
Often the topic is just not discussed.
"Most people are pretty private when it comes to sex," she said.
And, she said, "there is probably some ego involved with it when people are buying condoms. Everybody wants to be a large."
As the study shows, that can come with a price. If a condom doesn't work, Alleyne said, a man is putting his health and the health of his partner at risk.
The health department offers a variety of free condoms. Alleyne's suggestion: Grab a handful and see what works best.
That's a good plan, Crosby said, and there are online retailers that help you find the brand that works for you. Try searching for help at www.askmen.com or www.ehow.com. Another option is www.condomania.com
Once you find what works, he said, stick with it.
"One way or another, men who use condoms need to understand that they can find a condom that fits them just right if they look," he said.