Condom size can seem like a really big joke. Spend any amount of time in the condom section of a drug store or your local sex shop and before too long a couple or group of friends will stop by make and remark on how so-and-so needs the extra large condoms, and some other person needs the junior sizes. Maybe it's because of social anxiety about penis size, or the tragic way that men are so often measured by their ability to get erections, but whatever the reason, the idea that there are different condom sizes seems funny to most people.
No matter how much social norms try to shoe horn us into a few basic sizes the truth is that bodies and body parts come in all different sizes, and while most condoms will fit most penises, finding a condom size that fits well can make a huge difference in both sexual satisfaction and likelihood that the person wearing the condom will in fact wear one next time.
Breaking Down Condom SizesCondom size is often described in terms of small, medium, and large, but condom size is more than a single evaluation. Michael Reece, a researcher at Indiana University who has devoted more time than most to the study of condom fit and size, along with colleagues, developed something called the the Condom Fit and Feel Scale, which breaks condom size down into four dimensions: too loose, too tight, too long, and too short. The size of a condom should be considered on each, and all of these dimensions. A condom may be shorter and wider, or longer but more narrow. Usually larger sized condoms are both longer and wider, and smaller condoms are just narrower without necessarily being shorter. More recently some condom companies have experimented with offering a wide range of custom fitted condoms (one company offers 70 different sizes).
Does Condom Size Always Correlate with Penis Size? Penises come in different sizes, so it makes sense that condoms would, too. But how much of condom fit and feel is related to the condom size as opposed to penis size? And what about our subjective perceptions of comfort? Reece and his colleagues conducted a study in the U.S. with 1,661 men who measured their own penis size (length and circumference when erect) and then reported both their penis size and their satisfaction with condom sizes. They found that there was generally a good fit between penis size and condom size, in that men whose penis size was larger (compared with the group being studied) were more likely to complain about condoms being too tight and short, and men whose penis size was smaller complained of condoms being too loose, and too long.
This poses an interesting problem for people working in sexual health. If some men aren't using condoms because they don't fit well and therefore don't feel good, it might be useful for sexual health workers to ask men about this, and teach them that they could likely find a condom that fit and felt better. However, the social stigma around penis size would make this not a particularly welcome question. Whether you have a penis or not, imagine going to a clinic and being asked about your penis size. It would be nice if we lived in a world where this question didn't feel loaded, but for most people it probably would.
The Difference Between Condom Fit and Condom Feel Condom size can be easily measured and described. All you need to know is the length and circumference of the condom. But the way a condom feels involves a subjective evaluation. Manufacturers and scientists focus on norms, but for an individual it's possible that a condom that fits a bit tight or a bit loose will actually feel better than one that is closest to your actual penile dimensions. The answer to this is, of course, experimentation. Finding the best fit condoms may involve trying a few different brands. Keep in mind that a condom may fit well around the head, or glans, of the penis, along the shaft, or at the base. Ideally you'll find a condom that fits well in all parts. Different materials can also change the way a condom size feels, as will the thickness of the latex or polyisoprene the condom is made from.
Dodge, B., Reece, M., Herbenick, D., & Schick, V. "Experiences of Condom Fit and Feel Among Men in Five European Nations" International Journal of Men's Health Vol. 9, No. 3 (2010): 175-183.
Reece, M., Herbenick, D., & Dodge, B. "Penile Dimensions and Men's Perceptions of Condom Fit and Feel" Sexually Transmitted Infections Vol. 85, No. 2 (2009): 127-131.