Skin Reactions to Latex


No, not semen. Sap from the Hevea Brasiliensis (Rubber Tree)

In response to Condom Use and Sexual Performance, reader Maeve asked:

“Why does that happen? Is it different if you use other materials (polyurethane, etc)?”

Good question. I’ve always wondered about this but never seen a condom-specific answer. I set about on the interwebs to figure out which latex properties deplete natural sexual lubrication.

The answer may lie in the general latex allergy. There is minimal information about latex allergies and sex but I checked out latex allergy info on WebMD and Mayo Clinic. Latex is derived from rubber tree sap and certain proteins in the milky, semen-looking fluid cause dermal irritations. Basically, the sap can irritate skin.

But most people don’t have an actual *allergy* to latex. (Latex reaction image search here, kinda ick but SFW). So why does latex dry out your sexual secretions?

I see a few different factors at work here.

1. Proteins in Natural Latex. Something about the proteins effects some part of the population by irritating the skin. One of the effects of latex-on-skin contact listed on WebMD is “dryness.”

2. Other Chemicals Used to Create Latex Products. Manufacturers use many different kinds of chemicals to create products from the milky tree sap. I found 3 chemical mixes specifically involved in the condom process: Mercapto Mix, Carba Mix and Mercaptobenzothiazole (MBT). All three can cause contact skin irritation.

3. Repeat Exposure. On both WebMD and Mayo, they mention increased likelihood of sensitivity and allergy development with repeat exposure. This is why you often see nitrile gloves in hospitals these days. The more your skin comes into contact with latex proteins and production chemcials the more your body generates a reaction.

Considering the above factors, it makes perfect sense why people without latex allergies feel dried out when using condoms without lube. Any water-based or silicone lube will provide a good barrier between your skin and the potentially irritating latex and chemicals.

None of this means that you should run screaming from latex condoms. They work really well and many people find them more comfortable and pleasurable than the less stretchy polyurethane or polyisoprene alternatives. If you don’t have a latex allergy just use water-based or silicone-based lube on the inside and outside of your latex condom.

As far as lube use with polyurethane or polyisoprene alternatives, I’ve only ever used latex condoms so I have no idea. I suggest using lube anyway because wetter is better.

Have experience with non-latex condoms and lube use? Drop me a line! I’m curious about your experiences.

6 thoughts on “Skin Reactions to Latex”

  1. I’ve used polyisoprene condoms, but only twice, and once with lube. I can’t remember any differences so imagine they performed as per usual. The polyisoprene condoms were really good actually, very much enjoyed using them!

  2. Polyurethane condoms are superior for two reasons:

    1) heat transmission- this gets dulled with latex and maybe it’s just me but I find the initial penetration in to such a warm spot incredible.

    2) no taste- again maybe it’s just me but I can’t stand the taste of latex

    As you say though- they don’t stretch so it’s important to find one that fits.

    Also I’m curious why you push so hard for lube inside the condom?
    Especially with Polyurethane where there’s no compression-fit, and lube and it’s liable to come off.

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