Which condom is best?
Price was not a major consideration, since none of the condoms we tested were exceedingly expensive—they all averaged about $12 for a pack of 12. (Lambskin condoms cost considerably more, but we did not test them, as they're porous and don't necessarily prevent disease transmission.) We graded on a scale of 1 to 5, 5 being the best. Here are the candidates from worst to best.
Trojan Shared Pleasure Warm Sensations
Price: 12-pack $7 to $12 (Prices vary widely, depending on the pharmacy, supermarket, or Internet site where you buy them.)
"Pleasure" is Trojan's marketing buzzword. The Warm Sensations condom is coated with a special gel that is supposed to heat up with intercourse. There are any number of drawbacks to protected sex, but I've never found low temperature to be one of them. We couldn't fathom the point of this condom, and, indeed, the special heating gel did not add to the experience. As for lubrication, the moistening agent on this Trojan (as with many other Trojans) took on a dry, powdery feel. And the rubbery smell that seems to grow more distinct with use doesn't exactly keep you in the mood.
Lubrication/ease of application: 2
Trojan Her Pleasure
Price: 12-pack $8 to $13
Her Pleasure offers a "unique texturing designed to help provide extra sensation for a woman's most sensitive area." Translation: This condom has weird cross-hatchings at its base. Her Pleasure provided none of the fun that Pleasure Mesh did. My partner, meanwhile, said it was probably best "for awkward angles." (I did not pursue the point.) In addition to the pungent rubber smell and too-tight fit, the lubrication was insufficient.
Sagami Type E
Price: 12-pack $7 to $15
For some reason, the people at Sagami Rubber Industries in Tokyo made the Type E an eerie shade of green. Unless you're into weird Asian porn, or like to pretend a lizard lives in your shorts, you may find the look of this condom disconcerting. The Sagami Type E offers several layers of stimulation—an inch of small nobs, then an inch of mesh, then several more inches of nobs. In practice, the Sagami was fine, and the bells and whistles added to our experience, but we couldn't get over the ridiculous appearance.
Feeling: 2 to 5 (5 if you like the kinky stuff, 2 if you don't)
Total: 6 to 9
Trojan Pleasure Mesh
Price: 12-pack $8 to $13
This condom is a streamlined improvement on the standard ribbed condom. Ribs, which are made by stretching and folding the latex of the condom, tend to flatten out after a few minutes. They have always been more about novelty than function. But the latex of the Pleasure Mesh is striated, like a storm-fence laid over a flat wall. My partner's reaction, if not as enthusiastic as my own, was favorable. She reported increased stimulation, but added that "without good technique, [the mesh] won't make much difference." Lubrication was adequate.
Aesthetics: 3 (Just don't stare at it.)
Price: 12-pack $10 to $16
The Kimono had a creamy, even luxurious, feel. ("Velvety," was my partner's word.) Presentation matters, of course, and we liked the well-packaged Kimono immediately. The box, matte-finished cherry red and adorned with lotus leaves, looks Zenlike and lovely on the bedside table. The individual foil packages inside come in easy-to-tear pairs (in contrast to Trojan's annoying, waxy, sausage-string approach). The Kimono went on easily with virtually no latex scent. Alas, nothing's perfect—the lubrication did wear off slightly.
You can read James Verini's other work at www.jamesverini.com.
Photograph of condom in wrapper on the Slate home page from Royalty-Free/Corbis.