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Female Condoms: Pros, Cons, and How They Work


Affectionate young couple in their bed

Condoms are a well-known and popular form of birth control. While not everyone loves the experience of sex using a condom, they are universally accepted as safe and inexpensive protection against unwanted pregnancy and sexually-transmitted diseases (STDs).

Condoms are made for use by both men and women. Female condoms (or internal condoms) are birth control option for women that look different than condoms made for men. They are a barrier form of birth control that is FDA approved for both vaginal and anal intercourse. Many people have questions about female condoms and it can be helpful to get answers before you decide if this form of birth control is right for you.

What Does a Female Condom Look Like?

The female condom is a thin, soft, lubricated, loose-fitting pouch with a flexible ring on each end. The smaller ring on the closed end of the condom is inserted into the vagina up to your cervix. The larger ring on the open end of the condom remains outside your vagina.

In comparison to a male condom, the female condom is larger and looks quite a bit different than the male condom. Think poncho vs. leotard. Female condoms are made of non-latex, nitrile, which is a synthetic rubber. There is a minimal risk of side effects and an allergic reaction to the female condom is rare.

Do Female Condoms Work?

Female condoms are a barrier form of birth control that blocks the sperm from entering the uterus, therefore preventing the sperm from reaching and fertilizing an egg. Male condoms are also a barrier form of birth control. The diaphragm, cervical cap, and sponge are also barrier methods and can be used along with spermicide (a chemical substance that destroys sperm) in order to prevent pregnancy.

When the female condom is used correctly, it is 95% effective and with normal use, it is about 79% effective. While female condoms are highly effective at protecting against the transmission of STDs including HIV, it is not considered as effective as a male condom.

How Do I Use a Female Condom?

It is essential that you follow proper instructions when you use a female condom in order to maximize protection. There are also some precautions to be aware of.

Step-By-Step Instructions

The following are step-by-step instructions on how to use the female condom:

  1. First, always check the expiration date and also see if there are any signs of damage to the package.
  2. Carefully open the package.
  3. The smaller inner ring will go inside the vagina. The larger ring will remain outside.
  4. If additional lubricant (oil, silicone or water-based lubricants are fine) or spermicide is needed, you should apply it now.
  5. Get into a comfortable position to insert the condom. You can lie down, sit, squat or put one leg up on a chair.
  6. Squeeze the smaller ring that is at the closed end of the condom and insert it into the vagina like a tampon. Make sure the condom is past your pubic bone. Place your index finger inside the condom and push it up towards your cervix as far up as it can go.
  7. Do not allow the condom to twist.
  8. The larger outer ring should extend outside of the vagina about one inch past the labia.
  9. Guide the penis into the female condom. Make sure that during sex, the penis doesn’t push the outer ring inside the vagina or the condom does not slip to the side.
  10. After sex, immediately twist the outer ring so that the semen is trapped inside the condom. Gently remove the condom and throw it in the trash. (Never dispose of it in the toilet.)

Precautions

Female condoms are not for everyone for several reasons. You can insert the female condom up to eight hours before having sex, but it must be removed immediately after sex. Never use female and male condoms together which can cause one or both of them to break.

Keep in mind that female condoms are not reusable. They are strictly one-time use only. You may find it hard to get an appropriate fit that does not slip, so make sure you understand the directions before use.

Where Can I Buy Female Condoms?

Female condoms are typically sold in three or twelve-packs and are readily available over-the-counter at most drug stores, online and at family planning clinics. No doctor prescription or special fitting is required. They tend to be slightly more expensive than male condoms.

Deciding if the Female Condom Is Right for You

You may want to consult with your health care provider to see if using the female condom as a form of birth control is a good fit for you. However, if the condom doesn’t feel or fit right or you aren’t comfortable with how the condom is inserted, the female condom may not be the best option for you.

Pros

Cons

More control over your safety Can be more expensive
Can increase pleasure by stimulating the clitoris Some complain of less clitoral stimulation
Made of nitrile (non-latex) Not as effective as male condoms
Can be worn up to 8 hours in advance Some complain they are noisy

You will also need to keep in mind that if the condom tears or there is a semen spill when you remove it, you may need to use a backup form of emergency contraception.

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