Pros: Hypoallergenic, non-irritating, no odor.
Cons: Thick and the slightest bit too snug.
Update: Durex Avanti Bare polyisopreme condoms are far better than the Lifestyles SKYN condoms reviewed here. They're too thick, but relative to these they're like wearing nothing.
Nota Bene: While condoms certainly have "off-label" use, this review is about their intended purpose: preventing unwanted pregnancy and the transmission of STDs. It thus contains references to sex, coitus, lovemaking, rolling in the hay, a few terms that won't get through Epinions's content filter...you get the picture. If that's going to bother you, read no further. Just remember: You should feel good about sex and be thankful for it. Your parents did the deed at least once, to your great benefit.
The common estimate is that one in 9 people has an allergy or sensitivity to latex, leading condom manufacturers to develop alternatives. Condoms made of sheep intestine predate latex condoms, but don't protect against STDs/VDs (sexually transmitted diseases or venereal diseases) and have, for some of us, a mental gross-out factor. For several years, polyurethane condoms have been available under the Trojan Supra and Durex Avanti brands. Rumors of a nitrile condom have circulated for years but remain mere rumors. Nearly a year ago, without much rumor or fanfare, LifeStyles introduced a third alternative-material condom, the polyisoprene SKYN non-latex condom.
If one looks it up in the CRC or Wikipedia, one finds that polyisoprene is the polymer ordinarily thought of as rubber. "Latex" and "rubber" are, I thought, synonymous, so I suspected that there was a marketing gimmick at work. Then again, both consumer-watchdog groups and government regulatory agencies would not have given LifeStyles a pass to release an old product under a new name. I was missing a very subtle distinction. Rubber is made from latex, yes, and rubber is crosslinked polyisoprene, but rubber isn't just crosslinked polyisoprene. It also carries with it proteins, glycoproteins, and polysaccharides present in the sap that was the source of the latex. These compounds are responsible for the characteristic smell of a traditional latex condom and for most latex sensitivity.
Lifestyles SKYN polyisoprene condoms are thus made from what could be thought of as highly purified rubber, rubber with the polymer left in and the allergens left out. As such, they can be expected to perform identically to latex rubber condoms, and have indeed been proven to prevent pregnancy and STDs when used consistently and correctly.
How do they feel?
Since LifeStyles SKYN condoms are, essentially, rubber condoms, I expected them to feel like rubber condoms. Perhaps they do; unlike the almost noneslatic polyurethane condoms, they stretch. I'm an average American male for the purposes of this review, and found the SKYN condom to be form-fitting and a bit snug but not uncomfortably so, whereas polyurethane condoms like Durex Avanti--which must fit some Cinderella penis correctly--are snug in places and loose in others, causing parts of them to have a rustling-grocery-bag feel during sex. LifeStyles SKYN condoms had no grocery-bag effect at all. The reservoir tip looks abnormally large but doesn't get in the way. Perhaps someone who puts it on too forcefully might end up with the tip of his member in the tip of the SKYN condom--an almost sure recipe for discomfort and breakage--but I didn't have that problem. They transmit heat like a rubber condom, and my "better half", the reason we're using nonlatex condoms in the first place, said that the LifeStyles SKYN polyisoprene condom felt just like a latex rubber condom. However, it didn't smell like a latex condom at all, which is a certain improvement.
Transmission of sensation, however, was diminished relative to the better latex condoms and polyurethane condoms. Not only were SKYN condoms snug-feeling, the also felt thick, certainly thicker than Beyond Seven latex condoms--probably the best on the market--and thicker than I remember major-brand latex condoms being. Premature ejaculators may actually like this kind of thickness, but I find that more sensitivity makes me better at doing the deed. It's hard to be gentle or subtle when you need to be gentle or subtle if you have to be a bit rough to feel what's going on.
But are they irritating?
The "better half" developed a sensitivity to latex condoms over time, which had us first trying polyurethane condoms. These worked for a short while--less than a full box--before she found them irritating, as well. That may have been from the texture--polyurethane is a much "harder" material than either skin or rubber--or it may have been from the lubricant. As nobody sells a nonlubricated polyurethane condom, that's a question we were unable to settle.
LifeStyles Skyn polyisoprene condoms, however, produced no irritation at all. As the lubricant is non-spermicidal, maybe that made the difference. Trojan Supra condoms certainly had spermicidal lubricant, but as I recall, Durex Avanti did not, so maybe that isn't the case, after all. Regardless, the takeaway message is that somebody with sensitivity not only to latex rubber but also to the two brands of polyurethane condom on the market was not sensitive to LifeStyles Skyn.
Were it up to just me, I'd use a Beyond Seven latex condom or a polyurethane condom. LifeStyles SKYN condoms are thick--too thick for me--and given that they're made of (purified) rubber, there's probably no good reason for them to be any thicker than a Beyond Seven condom.
But sex is an activity for two, not one. I thus consider the LifeStyles SKYN polyisoprene condoms a very welcome introduction to the marketplace, especially for couples in which one member or or the other has sensitivity to both latex and polyurethane condoms. Condom use is a more reliable method of "family planning" than coitus interruptus or the rhythm method and doesn't require the ingestion of sometimes troublesome hormone pills. Thickness is a small price to pay for peace of mind.
In the course of writing this review, I've discovered that Durex's nonlatex polyisoprene condom, Avanti Bare, is just coming to market. If they're thinner and equally nonirritating, they'll be my new condom of choice. Until I get my hands on a few, the LifeStyles SKYN condoms reviewed here are it.