We have not really done much yet in terms of condom reviews. They actually take a long time as they have to be tested more extensively than other products. We have also had a couple of testing events where we were just trying to figure out the best testing protocols. We are finally doing our first condom review, and we are starting with one that was introduced with a lot of hoopla. It is the Hex latex condom from Lelo.
It has been promoted as the world’s best condom. It has certainly been one of the most publicized. This has also been a great opportunity to encourage people to think about safer sex practices.
Condom development has been slow and their have been very few great innovations, even with an award from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation specifically for new innovations. Getting FDA approval is a huge and expensive hurdle.
That an adult toy company was able to do this really is quite impressive. They did it by raising over $1 million dollars through crowd funding. The condom has not been without controversy, though.
Many people objected to the use of Charlie Sheen as a spokesperson, although technically, the HIV infected actor is the poster child for why using condoms is a good idea. Still, many people could not get past the charges of domestic abuse, his drug abuse, and general irresponsible behavior.
Another controversy from a Gizmodo article was over the embossed word “Respect” around the base of the condom, and the supposed meaning of “Respect the man who wear this.” I do not know if this is even true, and I did not see the word on the condom I examined.
Their marketing it as inspired by graphene is a bit misleading. Graphene is a relatively new amazing two dimensional material that is made up of a single layer of atoms that are arrayed in a hexagonal lattice. That is where they get the comparison, but hexagonal tiling is not anything new. Bees have been doing it for a long time. The pattern is created by the mold for the condom, it is not an additional stronger material. This is about marketing, as it really has nothing to do with graphene. If you could actually make a condom out of graphene, it might be possible to have a condom that is both flexible and 200 times stronger than steel. This is not that.
As to the condom itself, the main claim to fame is the honeycomb pattern that makes it highly tear resistant. Even if it gets a hole in it, it is difficult to get past the honeycomb pattern to turn into a larger tear.
On to the testing. It comes in the traditional square package that most condoms come in. I do wish that the packaging was easier to open. A few manufacturers have addressed this issue, as this classic condom packaging was never optimal. With a little lube on your fingers and they become very difficult to open.
There was no noticeable smell upon opening the package. There was nothing notable about the taste. That can not be said for all condoms. It is very lightly lubricated, but we still recommend adding the lube of your choice when using any condom.
In terms of puncture resistance, I was able to penetrate it with a sharp object up to 17mm before it punched through. That is about twice what it took to punch through a lower cost condom we use for comparison. Some have written that a punctured condom is still a problem, even if it does not shred, but that depends on where the puncture is. Unless it is in the tip, it is much less of a problem than if it is further up the base as most if not all of the semen is in the tip. In that case, a condom that has a hole but does not tear further is a good thing.
In a test against an inexpensive condom, once there was a hole, it was easier to turn that into a tear than it was with the Hex. Still, the Hex will tear with just a bit more effort. Most of the shearing force goes back and forth when using a condom during intercourse, and the Hex will tend to tear in a straight line. That could shear off the end of the condom, theoretically, but still leave it on the penis and able to do its job.
We did replicate their test with the condom stretched over a glass. The test condom burst while the Hex just had a small hole in it. While it seems that the Hex is a bit better than some of the cheaper alternatives, a lot more testing would need to be done to determine just how much better it actually is, and whether that makes a difference in real world applications.
A number of bloggers claimed that the way Hex breaks, as shown in their online demo with the glass, could make it more dangerous, as it is more difficult to detect a break. We disagree with this, as you can have undetectable holes in any condom. This glass test is not all that realistic for how things work with a penis clad condom. You will not normally have that much stretching, I don’t care how big you think you are. While I have seen tears in condoms, I have never had one burst like a balloon under normal usage. The condom would have to have a major defect to do that.
There is no published study on the issue of how condoms might break differently and how that relates to their efficacy and safety. Without that, we can’t really make any claims with certainty. The closest we could find comes from the adjuct professor of Human Sexuality at NYU, Zhana Vrangalova PhD. She used her social networks to do a survey on condom breakage. Here are his results: “…three quarters of people didn’t notice the condom had broken until some time after it had happened, with about half of those having felt it “before ejaculation,” meaning some time after it had broken but before ejaculation happened.” Based on this, a shredded condom would be more likely to result in pregnancy or an STD than a condom that just had a small hole in it, because it is unlikely that you would notice either before you could take action. As I said before, in order to be of concern you would need for a hole to develop in the tip, not along the side where the grip of the condom would make it less likely for fluids to pass through. You probably would not notice a small hole in the tip of any condom since the tip experiences the least stretching as it is typically just a reservoir for containing the semen.
One might even question the significance of our own penetration test, as you generally don’t have sharp objects penetrating your condom during sex. Our test shows the relative puncture resistance of a condom, but the jury is still out on how much weight to give that. The tearing test is probably more important, and the Hex will tear, albeit with a little more effort. Whether that is significant or not would require specific testing.
The Hex is thin, at 0.045mm, although that does not make it the thinnest, which I believe are now in the 0.01mm range (the only one I know of is the Okamoto Zero One, which is not yet available in the U.S.) The standard, and what we use for our test base, is 0.07 mm. In our condom testing, the thickness of a condom does seem to be the best predictor of how much sensation gets through, and in general, the thinner the better.
How does it feel? In our testing, snug, but not uncomfortably so. It does seem, as they claim, to be more resistant to sliding off. It holds on quite well. It did pass through quite a bit of sensation, perhaps a bit more than most condoms we have tested (but we still believe this is largely due to the thinness.)
The most common complaint I have heard is condoms sliding off, especially during withdrawal This then requires a bit of vaginal hide and sex- a game no one wants to play with a semen filled condom. This is where the Hex could have a real advantage, although further testing needs to be done to really quantify this. We also need to try some tearing tests to see how well they stay on, even after a tear, which could lead to the dreaded rubber ring around the penis but a missing condom situation. This is something we will try at our next condom testing event.
We test condoms for both vaginal and anal use. While there may be some debate about the best lube for anal sex, we use a hybrid as our standard for latex condom tests. The sensation you’ll get is a combination of the condom and a good lube, and that is especially true with anal sex.
We found the Hex condom to provide a better than average level of sensation for both vaginal and anal sex. We can not say that it provides the best sensation, as this is a very subjective issue and we have not yet developed any scientific or consistent way to test this. We are open to suggestions.
Condoms do break, but usually the reason is a lack of lube, improper storage in a hot environment, or a condom beyond the expiration date. Even then, with the ready availability of emergency contraception, at least the worry of accidental pregnancy is much reduced. Just in general, using a condom even if it breaks offers more protection against STIs than not using one at all. Better to have one that does not break, though.
I found them at Target in a 12 pack for $19.99 ($1.66 each), and on Amazon in a 12 pack for $16.51 ($1.37 each), so prices vary quite a bit. This puts it at a price point of about double the cost of the average condom, although other premium condoms can be in a similar price range. The Sagami 0.02mm thick condom from Japan costs around $20 for a 12 pack. The Okamaoto 0.03 Real Fit runs around $18.00 for a 12 pack.
As with lubes, preference is a very personal thing. Some reported that they felt a little too tight, others said it felt like nothing at all. You simply can not know if you will like them until you try them. In the near future we plan to do some head to head comparisons of the various premium condoms.