Sex and the supermarket

The condom aisle isn't just for condoms anymore

Last reviewed: February 2010
Groceries and sex products

You can't watch TV these days without seeing some satisfied-looking couple stretched out in bed, smiling as if they know a secret. Often their secret turns out to be a "personal lubricant" or another product you never thought you'd see advertised before midnight. And if you haven't seen the condom display at your local supermarket lately, that might also raise an eyebrow or two. In addition to the usual suspects, you can find things like vibrating rings and arousal gels. These are now so mainstream that you can find store brands and even coupons in the Sunday paper.

"The taboo has been lifted, because you no longer have to go to a 'sleazy' adult store," says Sari Locker, Ph.D., author of "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Amazing Sex" (Alpha, 2005). "When you shop for shampoo and toothpaste, you can also buy things like tingling lubricant and arousal gel."

We did some shopping to see exactly what you can buy at your local grocery store or drugstore. See A shopper's guide to sex products for a roundup of items and what you need to know about them. We also surveyed more than 1,000 Americans about buying sex products; check out our stats about who's using what and where they're shopping. And don't miss the results of our latest condom tests. But first, here's a little Q&A for sex-product shoppers:

What's the deal with all of those lubricants for sale?

Baby boomers are entering a dry spell, so to speak. Vaginal dryness starts to become an issue in the years during and after menopause. That's about the time when your ovaries slow the production of estrogen, which keeps tissues in the vagina moist and lubricated. Some women experience painful dryness all the time, not just during sex. Vaginal dryness might also be a problem if you're nursing or taking certain medications.

There are so many kinds of condoms. What's that all about?

It's all about variety! You can buy plain, contoured, studded, and even glow-in-the-dark condoms. There are dozens of varieties, but also differences in reliability, as you'll see. And just as important as picking a reliable condom is using it correctly. Even if you've been using them for years, you should check out the instructions before tossing the box next time. Follow those carefully and remember to use only silicone or water-based lubricants like KY Jelly. Petroleum-based lubricants like Vaseline and baby oil can eat right through the latex.

Are there any other items you might want to avoid?

Some condoms come with Nonoxynol-9, a spermicidal lubricant that used to be more common. It's fallen out of favor in recent years because it can cause irritation, urinary tract infections, and even vaginal tears that could increase the risk of contracting HIV. You can still find it in a few condoms, but none of the ones we tested has it.

What if you're embarrassed about perusing the sex-products aisle?

Trojan Brand research shows that many of us hurry through the condom-shopping process. But it pays to take your time and read labels. "All of the lubricants are laid out on the shelves next to the condoms, so you don't have to ask anyone," says Judith Reichman, M.D., author of "I'm Not in the Mood: What Every Woman Should Know About Improving Her Libido" (Harper Paperbacks, 1999). If you're shy, consider this: We sent one of our male secret shoppers to buy all the condoms we tested—more than 15,000 in all! Even though he was buying them by the hundreds—scooping up dozens of boxes at a time—he barely got a glance from the store cashiers. If they weren't wondering what he was up to, they're not wondering about you at all!

Posted: February 2010 — Consumer Reports ShopSmart Magazine issue: December 2009