Condoms and contraception advice - does one size really fit all?

The SH:24 team behind our contraception discussion forum The Pill or What? wasn’t overly surprised by a recent article published in The Independent, about research that found one in three women have been given the excuse the condom was “too small” to use

Researchers tried to discredit what they called this “fallacy” (nice pun, journos!) by putting condoms to the test with an air compressor – which they claimed expanded to the size of an Alsatian when fully inflated!

It’s not surprising to hear that one in three women has been given the excuse that the condom was “too small” to use. It’s good advice to try different brands to find a size and fit that works for you or your partner, and you can order trial packs of some condoms to find the ones you prefer. There are so many options when it comes to condoms, so if the first one you try doesn't suit you, there are plenty of other options out there. You can see the full range of condom brands with descriptions at any of the online condom stores.

But although condoms and the condom market are big enough to accommodate everyone, we believe that health providers need to move away from dispensing ‘one size fits all’ advice about contraception. What’s missing is the personalised yet clinically accurate contraception advice people seek online.

We’ve seen numerous discussions amongst our Instagram and Twitter followers and over on our contraception forum about condom shape, size and material that differ from what is being told to us as consumers by standardised advice from the NHS and others.

Condom users ask each other and our forum experts about chemicals used in condoms as we become increasingly aware of what we are putting in our bodies. Condoms vary in terms of their shapes, sizes, colours, flavours. Some are made of latex and others made of other materials such as polyisoprene. Condoms are also lubricated with different substances - some with spermicide and some not (often silicone). There is no evidence that condoms that are lubricated with spermicide are better at preventing pregnancy and they may cause irritation.

When patients come into a clinic, they can often assume all condoms are the same size so we also want to see better education around choices and how to use condoms properly.

More on our Contraception Forum – The Pill or What?

Dr Paula Baraitser is a consultant in sexual health at King’s College Hospital, specialising in women’s health and contraception. She developed The Pill or What? at SH:24 in response to the popularity of a wide variety of unmoderated online discussion forums. She said:

“The popularity amongst people who go online to seek advice around their contraception choices indicates that clinical advice alone does not currently go far enough to address this issue. Giving health professionals the time to offer a personalised approach, even if symptoms and concerns don’t fit with standard guidance, is increasingly necessary.”

“We want to help people make choices with information that they understand, trust and which makes sense for them and their own experience – not static, standardised information which doesn’t allow for the uniqueness of each body and each lifestyle.

“We’re trying to make contraception easier, reduce anxiety, and let people talk while we listen, so that those positive stories start to rise to the top.”