What Men Want: Condoms That Fit

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Many men want more condom sizes, new research suggests.

When offered more than the usual range of options, many men seek a more customized fit, according to a study published in July in the journal Sexual Health. Only about 1 in 7 men go with the standard sizes offered in the United States.

However, one of the study co-authors is the CEO of the company that sold the condoms, and the study was based on the first 1,000 men who bought the company's condoms on the Internet, so it may be hard to draw conclusions about the preferences of the general population.

Range of sizes

Even so, a recent study found that the average penis size is about 5.56 inches (14.12 centimeters), but there is considerable variability — with the smallest penis in that study measuring 1.6 inches (4 cm) and the largest sizing up at 10.3 inches (26.2 cm). [7 Wild Facts About the Penis]

By contrast, most condoms sold in the United States average 7 inches (17.7 cm) long, are a few inches bigger than the average penis and come in just a few standardized sizes. The biggest standard condoms are 8.32 inches (21 cm) long.

Because condoms are considered medical devices, they must go through rigorous, standardized testing — typically involving a balloon test where they are filled with water or air until they burst. The organizations that conduct the testing only allow narrow size ranges.

However, several studies have reported that up to half of men find condoms to be too long, too short, too loose or too tight. Poorly fitting condoms can lead to discomfort, slippage and breakage during sex, all of which reduce condom effectiveness. Condoms have a failure rate of about 15 percent with typical use.

Diversity abounds

Between 2011 and 2012, TheyFit LLC, a condom company, launched an array of condoms in 95 different sizes, which vary in length and width, to men throughout the European Union.

"The smallest one looks a bit like a pinky finger, and the biggest one looks a bit like a forearm," said TheyFit's chief operating officer Joe Nelson.

Of the first 1,000 packets sold, 83 of the 95 sizes were purchased, including every length and width available. The average length purchased was about 5.2 inches (13.2 cm), Nelson said.

Only about 13 percent of the condoms bought fell within the ranges that are allowed by testing organizations. However, the men who bought the condoms explicitly sought customized sizes, so perhaps these men were more likely in the first place to find regular condoms problematic than the average man.

However, the team believes the research reflects the preferences of the general population, because they explicitly didn't market the condoms to any particular penis size, Nelson said.

"It's not just these guys who like to think they need a Magnum or an XL, it's also these smaller guys," Nelson told LiveScience.

The findings suggest that at least some men, when given the option, would prefer more sizes than are currently available in the United States.

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Tia Ghose
Managing Editor

Tia is the managing editor and was previously a senior writer for Live Science. Her work has appeared in Scientific American, Wired.com and other outlets. She holds a master's degree in bioengineering from the University of Washington, a graduate certificate in science writing from UC Santa Cruz and a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Texas at Austin. Tia was part of a team at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that published the Empty Cradles series on preterm births, which won multiple awards, including the 2012 Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism.