Monday, October 24, 2011

Condom Review Part 2:
We Tried Fire & Ice So You Don't Have To


Trojan is the Captain College of condoms. The hometown hero. The old standby. The one you probably carried around in your wallet in high school and used when you lost your virginity.

Those of us who came of age in the '90s remember Trojan Man, the straightforward radio commercial character who showed up at just the right moment with the condom some horny young people needed to get laid.

But sometime in the last 15 years or so, after the brand was acquired by Church & Dwight, makers of Arm & Hammer baking soda, they started experimenting with novelty. Where once there was only Enz, Ribbed for Her Pleasure and the deceptively named "Thin," suddenly it was hard to keep track of the multitude of boxes on the drugstore shelves carrying the iconic helmet logo.

The new approach worked--Trojan always dominated the US condom market but eventually Magnum, a mere subbrand, itself had 15% of all domestic sales. But there were some missteps along the way. After market research revealed that women buy half of all condoms and wanted to find them somewhere else besides the "family planning" section, the company introduced Elexa, a female-oriented line of condoms and other accouterments that featured glamorous looking ladies on the boxes and were found with the "feminine hygiene" products. Despite customer loyalty from those who did find them, Elexa was a flop. Turns out, customers were really confused by condoms in the tampon section.

In the last few years Trojan has reinvented the condom yet again with the Ecstasy, which introduced the first non-reservoir tip condom and an "UltraSmooth" lubricant. The prices went up, too. The boxes now contain 10 condoms instead of the usual 12, and they cost $10. But how do the new products stack up?

Tested: BareSkin and Ecstasy with Fire & Ice

Ecstasy Fire & Ice

Fire & Ice first came out a few years ago and it has received solidly mixed reviews. Some people make the connection that the lubricant is basically Icy Hot and that sensation sends some people's genitals into a total panic. Others enjoy the feeling. Trojan describes the new Ecstasy shape as: "Revolutionary design lets you and your partner feel the pleasure, not the condom." In theory, a condom that isn't tight around the penis makes sex feel more "natural." Ecstasy condoms also feature ribs at the base designed to stimulate the sensitive outer bit of the vagina.

She says: The Fire & Ice wasn't nearly as scary as I thought it would be. I confess I went into our first trial fully expecting an "OMG BURNING!" reaction, and what I got was...pleasant. I don't think the lube was pleasurable per se but I could definitely feel an acute "icy hot" sensation. That was cool, especially after drinking when you lose some of that focused feeling. The condom was baggy though and the ribs were too far down the base because I didn't notice them. Definitely didn't need extra lube, but my hands felt greasy and smelled like menthol afterwards.

He says: Much like the name, my feelings are hot and cold about this product. I wasn't pleased with the poncho-like fit of the condom and the smell was a little stronger than I would have liked. It's really well lubricated, and perhaps a bit too much. The hot and cold sensations alternate and are at times indiscernible, but for some reason every time I came I felt only cold. It's worth a try if you're looking to switch it up, but probably not a go-to condom.

Overall rating: 3/5

BareSkin

BareSkin is giving Crown a run for its money. Made in Japan, BareSkin is significantly thinner than any other Trojan condom and is actually thinner than Crown, making it the thinnest condom available. Made from a "low odor latex" this condom is meant to be the least condom-like of all.

She says: I like this condom. It is really thin, though it doesn't feel as thin as Crown. It definitely smells more latex-y than Crown, but less so than the Ecstasy. Didn't need extra lube at all. I love the color of the package, which is the same subtly metallic aqua of the Dallas Cowboys' spandex pants. Considering that these are easier to get than Crown, they might become a standby. Memo to Trojan: make BareSkin Fire & Ice!

He says: The biggest appeal to this condom is how thin it is--the bareskin almost makes it feel like a bare-back sexual experience. The result is the sensitivity is better than any other Trojan I've tried. The lubricant is sufficient, but not overwhelming which lessens the strength of the latex-like smell. The only drawback is that it was too tight at the base.

Overall rating: 4.5/5

Monday, October 17, 2011

Q & A: Houston, We Have a Lube Problem


Sometimes I get a phone call from a friend telling me they've given my phone number or email address to someone--a stranger, to me--in urgent need of advice. It's a nice reminder that most people don't live in a world saturated by Dan Savage, Tristan Taormino, and the rest of the worth-their-salt sex advice gang, and that people still have problems and questions that need help and, somehow, Dr. Drew's 'Oh, you like anal sex? You were probably molested as a child weren't you?' bullshit isn't working.

Dear Julie,
I am in a long-distance relationship of a year now. My boyfriend goes to U of H, so we see each other about once a month. We both like to have rough sex, but it really tears me up and causes me to be in pain afterwards. This usually isn't a problem because we're only together for a weekend or so, but I didn't heal up normally after this past weekend and got worried.

He became really upset when I first suggested that we not always have rough sex and try other things, saying that style is what he liked most and he didn't want to change anything. I told him that I don't want to change anything either, but I will not continue having sex through the pain because, well, I don't like the association of sex with pain. It may be one of those situations where he thinks since the sex is good, why change anything?, but I come away from it all with rips and tears for days at a time.

Emily

I emailed Emily back to find out what 'rough sex' meant for her and she said that it meant just kind of pounding away, not anything that was intended to cause injury. Also, I wanted to make sure Emily didn't just have a case of the Red Raider Rash. She said they'd both been tested (yay!) and were clean.

Dear Emily,

My guess is that the 'fit' between you and your boyfriend is too tight, and that your lube gets pushed to the base of his penis during sex and doesn't reduce the bad friction between his skin and yours. You also might be allergic to an ingredient in the lube you're using, which could cause irritation in the (very sensitive, easily abraded) skin of your vagina which makes having sex insult to injury.

Water-based lubes can be a challenge because the water they contain is absorbed by the body over time, leaving behind the base the water is suspended in--often, glycerine. Many people are allergic to glycerin and other people may not be allergic to it but are irritated by it when it becomes sticky.

I recommend using a silicone-based lube, like Sliquid Organics Silk, which doesn't contain glycerin and since it's silicone-based, it doesn't get absorbed by the body and get sticky. If the problem is the 'fit' between you, a thick silicone- or oil-based lube designed for anal sex, like Boy Butter, might stay in place better (but don't use it with latex condoms). Paul Joannides, author of The Guide to Getting it On, suggests olive oil, which is used often in Europe.

When you 'apply' lube, make sure you put it all over both his penis and your vulva and inside your vagina, especially at the bottom of the vaginal opening--that little area gets a lot of pressure during sex.

All of the lube in the world, however, won't make your boyfriend any less of an asshole. I'm confident that any sex with you is better than no sex at all and the fact that he, at 21, only likes the 'rough sex style' is ridiculous. Most people that are not sadists do not want sex to be painful for their partners and good sex comes in a variety of flavors. If, the next time you're having sex, your boyfriend slips back into pounding mode, stop, get up off his dick, and walk away. He'll come around.

Julie




*not her real name

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Austin LifeCare Advertising in 6th Street Bars Now


I've got to hand it to Austin LifeCare: first they came out with a truly hilarious series of abstinence PSAs and now they've taken out an ad for their crisis pregnancy center on a large LCD screen at the Chuggin' Monkey, a bar firmly wrapped up in 6th Street's Jello Shot Curtain.

Maybe there was a mix up or something, because the ad on the small LCD screen in the ladies room was for Austin's best drunk-dial DUI defense lawfirm, 777-7777. You might think that the gender neutral DUI ad would be a better fit for over the bar placement and the OMG YOU SLUT YOU'RE PREGNANT AREN'T YOU ad would resonate with its audience more in the fucking ladies room.

Of course, advertising to women who have an (un)planned parenthood (I see what you're doing there, ALC! Cute!) IN A BAR seems like maybe a bad idea. Either the ladies are already pregnant and, um, they're drinking IN A BAR or they're about to do something that might make them pregnant and instead of, say, a billboard encouraging them to USE A CONDOM FOR CHRISSAKES SERIOUSLY IT'S NOT HARD Austin LifeCare is suggesting they save the number so they can call it later when they inevitably wind up pregnant.

So, ladies, have some Jell-O shots, drive home drunk, get a DUI, have unprotected sex, get pregnant, call Austin LifeCare. You have options! There is hope! They care about your life*! You're not alone! Need to talk? Call them! They've got a great sense of humor.



*the "life" you are carrying inside you, that is. Offer expires after birth.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Review: The Secrets of Great G Spot Orgasms and Female Ejaculation


Lordy was I excited at the invitation to review Tristan Taormino's new book, The Secrets of Great G Spot Orgasms and Female Ejaculation! I've been covering Tristan for ages now, and I'm always excited when the prolific writer, pornographer and sex educator comes out with something new.

Though her seminal work, The Ultimate Guide to Anal Sex for Women [buy this book, seriously] defined her more than a decade ago (!) as an anal devotee, her writing and porn runs the gamut from erotica to anal play to rough sex to open relationships, all of it top quality. You can read my reviews of Tristan's work here and here and an interview I did with her in 2006 (!!) here.

I expected no less from this latest book, and I'm happy to say that Tristan delivers, as always. Tristan reviews the historical development of the G Spot, the controversy that continues to surround its very existence, and recommends ways to explore it without freaking out and winding up feeling inadequate.

The book includes soft core photos of super hot pornsters, both male/female and female/female couples, and I love the one on the very first page--Tristan has fucking great taste in porn. The toys and lube she recommends are all totally lustworthy, from the Njoy Pure Wand to the Luna Beads to the Annie-O Strap-On Harness.

As one would expect from Tristan, the book includes a section on anal sex and the G Spot and a super helpful strap-on tutorial. But the best part of the book is something I've not seen before--three topical "Erotic Interludes" to get you hot and bothered to inspire you to, you know, do the how-to's.

In short, this is a great book that gets right to the point. It gives G Spot orgasm tips for solo and partnered play and provides options for hands, toys, or both. Highly recommended.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Review: Does Luxury Latex Deliver?


Ever since 2007 when I worked for Trojan and discovered Kimono Textured (neĆ© Type E) I’ve kept up with developments in the condom world. This year several new brands have joined the latex market and I felt it was time to review what's out there and fill the gaps left by Consumer Reports’ rankings, the most recent of which came out in 2009 and includes no, um, "field testing."

This multi-part series will review a wide selection of condoms available right now--some luxury brands and others late night, drugstore stand-bys. This first post will focus on specialty brands, some of which are fashion-forward and others focused on ethical sex.

The original fashion condom, of course, was Proper Attire, which features wrappers by famous designers like Alexander Wang and benefits Planned Parenthood. Other companies have packaged their condoms in gorgeously creative boxes, like OOO Boutique, which has a variety of inspirational packaging, like the “Try Me” and “Kung Fu Sutra” collections featuring condoms with suggested positions to try. The website even has animated gifs of each position, in case you need a little inspiration (see above). Top that, Cosmo Kama Sutra.

But two brands have emerged lately that combine luxury brand positioning with a charitable mission. This first review will focus on two such brands, Sir Richards and French Letter, each of which donate a portion of purchases to charity. Sir Richards has a TOMS-esque mission and donates one condom to Partners in Health for every one sold. French Letter, which is the world’s first fair trade, carbon-neutral condom, works with Cecily’s Fund to educate Zambian children orphaned by AIDS.

The condoms are do-gooders, yes, but how good are they to actually, you know, do it? Our testers compared them to two standbys--Crown and Kimono Textured.

Criteria: our testers used each condom featured (some more than once) and rated them on:
  • lube: was extra lube required?
  • sex-feel: did it feel like they were using a condom or not?
  • reliability: did it break?
  • special features, where applicable: were the ribs/studs even noticeable?
  • other: did the condom smell like latex? cause irritation? was the package hard to open?
Sir Richards Pleasure Dots
She says: The raised dot pattern is definitely intense, but I didn't feel it because the dots started several inches up the shaft of the condom, which is too far to really stimulate the most sensitive outer inch of the vaj. Well-lubricated but they had a rubbery smell. Bonus: I love the magenta geometric pattern on the package.
He says: They aren’t too lubricated, but they don’t dry easily, and they aren’t too thick either. The pleasure dots protrude more than any other condom I’ve used, which doesn’t affect me but is a nice feature.
Overall score: 3.5

French Letter

French Letter offers three varieties--Sheer Caress, Linger Lust, and Stimulating Massage. Our testers tried all three but are reviewing the Sheer Caress.
She says: The Sheer Caress was thin, but not as thin as Crown. And all of a sudden we had an "OMG, we need lube!" moment, which is never good. The round packages are pretty but kind of hard to open, especially in the dark after some adult beverages.
He says: French Letter does a great job of disguising the quality of the product (or lack thereof) with attractive packaging. In short, it’s as dry as Lubbock prior to 2009.
Overall score: 3.0



Kimono Textured
This Japanese condom is super thin, textured in the right places, and shaped to feel like the guy's wearing nothing at all.
She says: I love this condom, but it absolutely requires extra lube from the get-go. And it seems like they're shorter than other condoms, so I'm sometimes worried they're going to come off. They haven't, but it's just an anxiety.
He says: Kimono condoms have a more “intimate” feel, which is difficult to find in a condom. However, the downside is it tends to strangle my dick. For me, it’s just a little too tight, but on the plus side they will make you feel like you’re raw-dogging it.
Overall score: 4.0

Crown
Crown is another Japanese condom that is hard to find in stores but has gained popularity among pornstars and the sexerati--the thinnest condom available anywhere but larger than standard size condoms, Crown is the best of both worlds.
She says: As much as it pains me to give up on Kimono Textured, Crown has earned the top spot on my bedside table. They're so thin that I really don't notice them at all, and while I needed extra lube after a while, it wasn't a Texas Drought kind of situation.
He says: Crown is all about sensitivity, and the reliability can’t be overstated. It’s not uncommon to look down to double check that the condom is still on…and it always has been. Minor critique in that it tends to get dry after awhile—nothing a little lube can’t fix.
Overall rating: 4.5

If you need lube, and the more high-end the condom you're using the more likely you will, I recommend Sliquid Organics Silk, which is silicone-based and lasts forever.

Coming soon in the series: Lifestyles, Durex, and Trojan, or: We try Fire & Ice so you don't have to.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Whispered to Me Last Night:
"I Give the Best Handjobs in Austin"


One of the joys of being a sex blogger is that when I go out, after a few cocktails people pull me aside to share their secrets with me. Sometimes these tell-alls start out like this: "Is it normal that I like to get, kind of, choked out during sex?" Other times they take a turn for the douche: "I don't want to sound like I'm bragging or anything, but I really just find Magnums more comfortable."

But other times people, feeling confident after a good experience, want to highlight their skills in some area. Last night I was dressed to the tell-me nines in a minidress and a tiara made of anal beads* and a friend asked, incredulously, how it was possible that yet another guy had told her she was the first woman to successfully make him come via handjob. "Is it really that uncommon, Julie?" she asked.

Most people think of handjobs as something middle school kids do before they're ready to get naked, I told her. "But you don't have to go down on them!" she said. "And everybody does it in New York City!" I can envision late nights home on the subway, trying to keep the bar-makeout-momentum going...but I never did it, and if I ever saw a handjob in my many, many late nights home on the A train, I don't remember.

The feeling many women seem to have about handjobs is epitomized by Garfunkel and Oates' song "Handjob, Bland Job, I Don't Understand Job." "Why would I do that when he can do it himself?" a married friend told me. "I would rather have sex or give a blow job any day." A single gal said, "I hate them, but it's because I don't really know if I'm doing it well."

My friend said, "While obviously I have magic hands, I wonder if girls aren't giving handjobs any more? And why not? It works, it's quick, it's in no way defined as 'sex,' and I have never found it to be remotely as challenging as a blowjob."

Handjobs can be fun in part because of the tease--as adults, alone in someone's own bedroom (or library, or subway, or wherever) you can just have sex if you want to. But there is a thrill in making someone experience pleasure in an unexpected way and making them wait a little longer for what they really want.

Assuming you weren't the Handjob Queen of North Texas in middle school, how do you give a good handjob? My friend last night said that a bottle of lube bedside is key; but not all lube will work well for handjobs. A water-based lube is likely to get sticky, so I recommend something silicone-based like Sliquid Organics Silk. Or if you're for sure not going to have sex later, a nice lickable massage oil will do the trick and since it's edible that means easier cleanup ;). But just remember that oils will degrade latex and anything flavored or scented will not make your vagina happy.

Don't grip too tightly unless the guy asks you to, and mind your nails and be careful of any rings or bracelets.

Here is one of the best How-To's from The Handjob Handbook (yes, I own this book):
Taint Misbehavin'
  1. Shaping your hand like a C, massage his shaft. Go slowly.
  2. Start massaging his inner thighs. This will encourage him to relax.
  3. Tickle his rear entrance with your fingertips while continuing to stroke his shaft with your other hand.
He'll probably protest at first, but he'll let down his guard once he realizes you're just knocking and not entering. Note: Some guys might invite you in. Whether or not you accept the invitation is up to you. [ed. note: you'll need that lube if he does!]
Have fun! And remember, guys: handjobs--you deserve it!

*it was for a Lady Gaga party benefiting Equality Texas, so it was totally apropo