If you’re practicing safe sex (ahem, and you definitely should be), then you’re probably über familiar with the wide world of condoms. From colored to textured to flavored, there is truly an endless amount of styles to choose from. But when all is said and done, your choices end up coming down to two major categories: latex or lambskin. Yes. Lambskin.
But what the hell is the deal with “lambskin” condoms? Are they really made of lamb’s skin (or any lamb part, for that matter)? We asked Lisa Finn, a sex educator at New York City’s Babeland sex toy store, to weigh in.
1) Yes, lambskin condoms are made from actual lambs.
While not technically made from the outer skin of a lamb, a lambskin condom is certainly made from lamb, um, parts.
“Lambskin is the colloquial name for the material,” says Finn. “If you were digging into research, you’d find that they are called natural membrane condoms. This is because they are made from the intestinal membrane of a lamb.”
Mmkay, that’s kind of gross.
2) They’ve actually been around for millennia.
The first recorded use of a lambskin condom was in the myth of King Minos of Crete. His wife was said to have inserted a goat bladder into her vagina to ward off his semen, which was filled with scorpions and serpents. Fun! And while King Minos may or may not have been real, there is evidence that people reused lambskin condoms over and over again as a way to prevent pregnancy.
3) They supposedly feel amazing…
Because lambskin condoms are made from natural materials, Finn says they are the among the most natural-feeling condoms on the market. In the past, that made them a solid choice for people who complain about experiencing loss of sensitivity while wearing latex condoms.
“Lambskin condoms transmit body heat better than latex, and therefore have the most natural feel,” says Finn. “That’s because they are porous.”
4) …but they don’t protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
Yup, you read that right. One of the reasons why lambskin condoms have fallen out of favor in recent years is because they’re not exactly “fool-proof.” The material itself is braided to keep out sperm, so it’s effective in helping to prevent pregnancy. (In fact, when used correctly, they’re 98% effective.) But the braids are not small enough to keep out fluids that transmits STIs like HIV or herpes.
“Lambskin condoms should only be used with partners that you’re monogamous with, or whose [STI] status you know,” says Finn. So yeah, these are not the condoms you want to keep in your wallet for one-night stands. (And actually, don’t keep condoms in your wallet. It’s tacky. Keep them in your pocket like a big boy.)
5) Honestly, they look kinda weird.
Have you ever actually seen a lambskin condom? They look… strange.
Take a look:
Photo: Stefan Kühn / Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported
“They look almost like a condom-shaped drawstring bag,” says Finn.
(Oh yeah, we forget to mention that unlike regular condoms, which have a ring to secure the base, lambskin condoms have a drawstring)
6) There actually aren’t a ton of lambskin condoms on the market.
Because they don’t protect against STIs, “the only true lambskin condom on the market is Trojan’s Naturalamb and those are the largest condoms on the market,” says Finn.
And because they’re made from lamb’s membrane, they’re more expensive than your standard latex condoms. For comparison, a box of 36 Trojan latex condoms costs about USD$14.47 — more than three times as many condoms for a much lower price.
7) You probably don’t need to use lambskin condoms.
Given how expensive they are, as well as the fact that they don’t protect against STIs, there’s probably no good reason to use lambskin condoms unless a) your partner and you have both been thoroughly tested for STIs, and b) you prefer oil-based lubes to water-based lubes. (Oil-based lubes tend to break down the material of latex condoms.)
But! If you want something that feels like a lambskin condom, but has all the benefits of latex condoms, Finn recommends Lifestyle’s SKYN condoms. “These are made out of polyisoprene,” she says. Polyisoprene is stretchier than latex, but offers all the benefits of latex condoms, such as protection against STIs and pregnancy. “This material is really soft and thin and transmits heat similar to lambskin, but not as well as lambskin. It cannot be used with oils, but can be used with water and silicone-based lubes,” says Finn.
By Meagan Drillinger