London – When a teenage girl stretched a condom over her forearm, took a photo and told women on Twitter not to believe men when they say they are “too big” to use protection, her post was retweeted more than 25 000 times.
“If a boy ever tells you he’s too big for a condom, please send him this”, said Emily, an 18-year-old from Utah, striking a chord with men who know better and partners fed up with being asked to risk getting STIs – or pregnant – for another’s pleasure.
But according to industry insiders, as well as their customers, condoms can be too small for some – and too big for others.
“Unfortunately, condoms are not a ‘one size fits all’ product, as some people prefer them tight, some prefer more room,” says Paul Boon, condom firm Pasante’s UK marketing director. Different sized condoms have been widely manufactured for only around 15 years. Durex launched its Close Fit range of varying widths in the UK in 2002, two years after Pasante began offering different-sized condoms due to customer demand.
“People are starting to discover us and realise that they don’t have to try and fit into something that is not comfortable for them,” Boon says. “Just as people are all different shapes and sizes, with different neck to shirt sizes, different hand to glove sizes, different foot to shoe sizes, the penis is no different.”
Today, large and king-size condoms sell better than regular or “trim” sizes in parts of Europe, particularly Scandinavian countries, while smaller condoms sell better in the Far East, explains Boon. Earlier this year, Thai officials pleaded with young males to stop buying unnecessarily large condoms after STI and pregnancies rates rose. But going for a size too small can be a problem, too – although condoms are very stretchy, friction during sex can cause condoms to split. Too short or narrow and the condom could split under the strain; too big and it can slip off.
Regardless, the sale of bigger condoms is increasing globally, and Pasante plans to capitalise on the rise in demand for larger condoms by launching a new Super King range which measures at 69mm wide (the diameter of the penis).
To put this into perspective, the firm currently offers trim at 49mm wide, regular measuring 54mm, and a 55mm large size. According to the NHS, the average penis size in the UK is between 14 to 16cm when erect, and 12 – 13cm in girth, or circumference. So what about the men who don’t quite measure up to the average size?
Ant Smith, a 48-year-old engineering manager from London, hit headlines last year after his poem My Small Penis went viral – prompting him to organise a party for men with similarly sized genitals.
“Growing up it was a one-size-fits all mentality – we didn’t have the internet then so it was a matter of what was on the chemist’s shelf, or in the pub vending machine. They were always far too loose and once one came off, getting left behind, they just caused even more anxiety. It isn’t easy to be sexy while you’re groping around trying to ensure the condom stays on.”
Then there are those who have the opposite problem.
“I remember reading an article on penis size and seeing a diagram of an average erect penis, and mine was bigger by three or so inches,” says one 27-year-old from London who has a 7.5 inch (19cm) penis, who wishes to remain anonymous. “The reality is, having a bigger penis does make having sex more complicated and there is a high chance you could hurt the other person if you don’t use enough lubrication.”
He bought his first pack of XL condoms when he and his first girlfriend experienced discomfort. But buying them hasn’t always been the easiest task, he says.
“If they aren’t in stock I wouldn’t want to ask a shop assistant. I only would buy them in the supermarket as I can hide it amongst my shopping and I can be more discreet about them.
“The embarrassment comes from what other people might be thinking, or the idea that it’s some kind of ploy to flirt with the cashier in some weird way.” One way to avoid embarrassment is to shop online. British firm TheyFit is dedicated to providing protection that’s just right. “We make 95 different condom sizes – 14 different lengths, and 12 different nominal widths,” its website explains.
But Kerry Martin, a pharmacy dispenser in Brighton, is used to red faces.
“Sometimes people fill a basket of random cheap items and then causally chuck a packet of condoms in and head to the till.”
She adds that she’s never even considered checking the size of a packet.
“There really is nothing to be embarrassed about. We’ve all had to buy them at some point. Trust me, there are far more embarrassing things you could buy.”