Am I allergic to latex?

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Dear Dr. Myrtle,

My partner and I are fine with wearing condoms, but I get a painful, red rash right at the opening of my vagina after we use them. I’m thinking that I’m allergic to latex condoms. What should I do?


First, a word about latex allergies: Latex allergies are more common now than they were even ten years ago, because people come into frequent contact with products that contain latex, and more people use things like latex gloves in their working lives.

Any person can develop an allergy to latex, but the symptoms can be wide-ranging, from contact dermatitis (rash upon direct contact with skin) to asthma (upon breathing in the latex proteins). Only your healthcare provider can determine whether you truly have an allergy to latex.

Having said that, many of our customers have struggled with the same type of "rash" situation that you describe, yet they have no asthmatic (difficult to breathe) symptoms, and they do not get a rash anyplace else that comes into contact with the latex. Allergy, or no allergy?

There is a straightforward test that you can do in the privacy of your own home to see if you have a contact allergy to latex. NOTE: if you have any concern about an asthmatic reaction, or you are unsure of your allergic status, please do not try this at home, and see your healthcare provider.

1. Collect a latex condom.
2. Find a nice book to read or sunset to watch.
3. Place the condom into the inside "nook" of your elbow, bend your arm up to hold the condom, and leave it there for about 20 minutes.
4. After 20 minutes, take the condom out of your elbow, and see if there is any redness or swelling where the condom was in contact with your skin.
5. Redness/swelling or NOT, wash the skin in your elbow with soap and water.
6. Check your elbow skin the next day for redness or swelling, because some people can have a delayed reaction to latex (up to 48 hours in some cases).

Any swelling, itching or redness? If yes, you very likely do have a contact allergy to latex, and your healthcare provider may have additional information for you. Non-latex condoms made of polyurethane or polyisoprene--including Skyn, or the Female Condom--are an effective solution to true latex allergies

No swelling, itching or redness? If there is no response to this contact to the latex, it is much more likely that you are experiencing a friction burn, but not an allergic reaction. Friction is an integral part of the thrusting of intercourse, and for some people sexual penetration with thrusting can result in some pretty tender skin afterwards.

Here are some solutions to the friction burn problem:
1. Massage your vulva with a sexual lubricant prior to penetration. Incorporate massage into your regular sex play, and you’ll be increasing your sexual arousal as well as lubricating in advance of penetration.
2. Slather the shaft of the condom with lube. Even though many condoms come "lubricated", there is rarely enough lube to last through an entire sexual session, particularly at the shaft where most of the friction occurs.
3. Keep a bottle of lube with your traveling or home sex kit. While some people enjoy the sensation of friction, too much friction is just the same as a road rash, and it isn’t good for your skin in the long run. Having a bottle of lube as a part of your routine collection of stuff is a great way to be sure you have it on hand, just in case you need it.
4. Consider using the Female Condom. For people who struggle with friction no matter how much lube is used, the Female Condom allows them to experience the pressure, heat and sensation of penetration, but without the friction. How? The Female Condom doesn’t move, so the penis or dildo slides on the condom's surface, rather than against the sensitive walls of the vulva and vagina (or anus). A little more expensive, but a great choice for some.

Take Care.

Dr. Myrtle