The Performa condom, from Durex, is lubricated on the inside with a small amount of benzocaine, a topical anesthetic that numbs the penis. Men who've used the device have reported it can delay their orgasms and improve their sex life.
"It made lovemaking last longer" than with their usual brand of condoms, says Mark Critchley, a marketing executive at SSL International, Durex's parent company. "Ninety-four percent of the couples who tried the condom liked it."
Not all experts are convinced such a condom is the answer, though.
Critchley says the amount of benzocaine in the latex sleeve is small enough to partially dull sensation for men who wear it -- but not leak out and sap their partner's pleasure.
Although Durex now sells the new condom only in Europe, American men soon won't have to cross the Atlantic to get it. The company, the world's largest condom maker, is planning to launch the product in North and South America soon, Critchley says.
Dr. Jon Pryor, chief of urologic surgery at the University of Minnesota and an expert in premature ejaculation, says the problem affects "virtually every guy" at some point in their lifetime: "It may be the most common sexual dysfunction, even more than impotence."
However, Pryor says, there's no agreed-upon definition of what constitutes premature ejaculation. Some doctors make the diagnosis when a man's orgasm prevents that of his partner's at least half the time they're making love. For others, it's simply when couples feel the man ejaculates too quickly to make the experience enjoyable.
In either case, Pryor says, the causes of premature ejaculation are many, and have both physical and psychological origins.
Despite the Durex survey, Pryor says he's dubious the condom really helps much. Other sex aids containing topical anesthetics, such as lidocaine, typically don't work well, he says.
What has proven more effective are the modern antidepressants, like Prozac and Zoloft, which can delay the male orgasm. While these drugs are traditionally taken 12 hours before sex, Pryor says he's now studying a formulation men can take only "a couple" of hours before the act.
Isadora Alman, a syndicated sex advice columnist and radio personality, says that for many men who struggle with premature ejaculation, an anesthetic isn't the answer. Learning to slow down is.
"There are sprinters and there are milers in every sport," Alman says. "But it is certainly possible for the sprinters to at least do a half mile."
Alman, author of the book Doing It: Real People Having Really Good Sex, also disputes the notion that men who use numbing agents do so for their partner's pleasure. "I've often felt that a male product -- like a numbing cream -- is really aimed at the man's ego more than anything else."
Most men who care about pleasing their sex partners look beyond intercourse -- and to foreplay -- to satisfy her. In fact, three-quarters of women report not achieving orgasm from intercourse alone, Alman says.
Add to that the statistic that the average sex act, from beginning to end, takes a grand total of four minutes, and it's clear the joys of sex, at least for women, are difficult to achieve. "I don't think a whole lot of women can be satisfied if nothing else has happened," she says.
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