When you're getting hot and heavy with a new partner and reach for some protection, you're probably not worrying about a condom allergy. But though they're not exactly common (it's estimated that up to 3% of people have them), condom allergies do exist. And they can make having safer sex a serious pain.
If, after sex, you notice a rash or burning and itching sensation on your genitals, you may be experiencing a mild latex allergy. As Jonathan Schaffir, MD, tells Self, people with vaginas tend to notice the reaction within a day of having penetrative sex, and it goes away within four days. In the mean time, though, a bit of hydrocortisone cream will make you feel a bit better.
However, rarely, these reactions can be serious, even causing dangerously low blood pressure and life-threatening anaphylaxis, the Mayo Clinic explains. These are severe symptoms and require immediate medical attention.
So, if you or your partner knows that one of you has a latex allergy — which may also appear after coming into contact with latex gloves — it's crucial that you use an alternative to latex condoms. That might mean using condoms made out of plastics (such as Skyn or Durex Avanti) or opting for another barrier method of birth control (including the female condom or sponge). Lambskin condoms may also be an option, but these only protect against pregnancy — not STIs.
But latex isn't the only ingredient in condoms that can cause an unpleasant reaction. As Bedsider explains, spermicide — including the kinds present in some condoms — can cause allergic reactions, which may feel like an irritation in the vagina. On top of that, any lubricant, colouring, or flavouring in the condoms may cause similar reactions. Plus, it's possible to be allergic to the proteins in semen.
That means, if you or your partner are having consistent reactions to condoms (even mild ones), it's worth checking in with your gyno to help you narrow down the issue. You may simply have to become a more discerning condom connoisseur — avoiding those with spermicide, for instance — without having to give them up entirely.
The internal (a.k.a. female) condom is a great alternative because, like condoms, it protects against STIs. Other forms of birth control, such as the pill or IUD, are more effective than condoms at preventing pregnancy, but don't keep you safe from infections including gonorrhea and chlamydia. So it's definitely worth checking in with your partner (and maybe your doctor) before breaking up with condoms entirely.
However, before you get there, keep in mind that some other conditions can mimic allergic reactions. For instance, yeast infections can also cause painful irritation and itching in the vaginal area. So you may not be dealing with an allergy at all — yet another reason to seen a doc's attention. With their guidance, you'll be able to get back at it even hotter and heavier than before.