Many women find unpleasant side effects with hormonal birth control, or feel a lack of autonomy when it comes to male condoms.
But what if there was a solution that could protect you from unwanted pregnancies and STDs? A comfortable, reliable method that didn’t interrupt you during sex? We’re showing you how to use the female condom so you can enjoy sex without the risk of pregnancy or STDs.
What Are Female Condoms?
Female condoms are transparent sheaths with two flexible rings at each end, one of which is open . Also known as the single-use internal condom, they are worn inside the vagina or anus as a protective barrier against sperm and disease.
Why Use a Female Condom?
The internal condom is the only type of contraception controlled by women that protects your sexual health in two ways: against pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections or diseases (STIs, or STDs) .
How safe do you think the female condom would be when used with an HIV+ partner, twice a week?
You can enjoy a greater level of autonomy without the side effects of hormonal birth control while being protected against diseases that diaphragms or caps cannot shield you from.
Women interviewed in studies described more control over their sexual health, with their partner unable to refuse its use. They also expressed more pleasure during vaginal sex than with the male condom .
The female condom is also more durable than the latex male condom, so it is less likely to break. It is also only one size and does not need your male partner to have an erection. Other advantages are that you can use other oil-based lubricants if dimethicone isn’t enough, and it conducts heat better, so hot, humid days won’t affect it .
Types of Female Condoms
There are several brands of internal condoms, including the FC2, VA W.O.W. (or Reddy), Women’s Condom, and Cupid . The FC2 is available online in the USA and clinics and distribution centers in over a dozen countries . The VA W.O.W. is sold internationally  .
As of now, the FC2 is the only FDA-approved female condom on the market.
What Is the Internal Condom Made Of?
While the FC1 female condom was made of polyurethane, a type of plastic, the FC2 internal condom is made from synthetic latex. This is a little cheaper and does not make any noise during sex . The VA W.O.W. is made from natural rubber latex, and so is the Cupid line  .
How To Use a Female Condom: Step by Step Guide
Before you have sex with an internal condom, it is ideal that you practice inserting one to get used to how it works and feels. As there is no research on how spermicides might affect its efficacy, we don’t recommend that you combine the two methods . You don’t want to risk the condom’s integrity being damaged.
Here’s how to insert the female condom :
- Open the packet carefully and gently pull your condom out; do not use your teeth and be very careful with scissors. Ensure you do not have sharp fingernails either to prevent accidental tears.
- Squeeze the small inner ring at the closed end of the condom. This goes inside the vagina first. You can raise one leg if it makes insertion easier or use what you find comfortable when inserting a tampon or menstrual cup.
- Ensure the large ring, or outer ring, remains around the opening of the vagina. The inner ring should be up past your pubic bone; use your index or middle finger inside to check .
- When you have sex, ensure that your partner’s penis stays inside the condom to prevent semen from entering your vagina .
- Unlike the diaphragm, you must remove the female condom immediately after sex. To prevent semen inside from leaking out, you can twist the outer ring.
- Dispose of the condom in a bin.
If the condom breaks, you should seek out emergency contraception, which can be effective for up to five days in preventing pregnancy. Always check the expiration date, as an old condom won’t be as effective. You must also avoid reusing any internal condom because there can be semen inside .
If you’re at a high risk of HIV exposure, you need a course of post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) treatment to prevent the virus from gaining a foothold. Finally, if you practice anal sex, you can use the female condom for this purpose too, but you need more lube as the anus does not produce enough of its own fluid .
Effectiveness of Internal Condoms
When you choose a contraceptive method, your top priorities are how well it protects against pregnancy and STDs. But how effective are condoms?
Perfect use, where you follow all instructions to the letter every time, has a 2.6% failure rate over six months. Comparative studies show that the female condom can prevent pregnancy at a similar rate to other barrier methods such as the diaphragm .
As a barrier method, the female condom does provide protection against some STDs. Researchers estimate that women reduce their risk of contracting HIV by over 90%, assuming they have sex twice a week with an HIV-positive man .
Female vs Male Condoms
The male condom is the only non-permanent form of male birth control, and is available in most grocery stores with a healthcare section. Like female condoms, they are effective against pregnancy and STDs, and are single-use only .
Male condoms do have disadvantages, however. They are tighter around the penis; heat and friction can easily damage them, you cannot use oil-based lubricants, and your partner must have an erect penis to put one on. It can be harder to enjoy sex when you must pause to use a condom. After sex, you have to hold onto the condom while pulling out too .
Male Vs Female condoms, which do you think is safer?
Disadvantages of Female Condoms
The major disadvantage of female condoms is that they are less accessible. As of 2010, only 0.28% of condoms produced worldwide are female. One common myth that the US media have held is that women have a limited level of control over their bodies and would not use a female condom .
Many women also do not like the size and shape of internal condoms. Some describe them as “fiddly,” “odd,” or “looks like a large intestine,” others find the large size to be strange .
Sex education at school does not emphasize the female condom either, with women stating, “they showed it to us, but the method they emphasized the most was the male condom” .
How To Buy Female Condoms
How to get birth control that works for you? If you cannot find a physical store or clinic that sells the FC2, your best bet is to look online.
The Female Health Company website allows for direct purchase of the FC2 model in the United States, including bulk packages of 100 and 1,000 condoms. There are also options for uninsured and underinsured customers of 12 and 24-packs .
Many countries around the world, including Afghanistan, Nigeria, Peru, Tanzania, and the Netherlands, have distribution centers for the FC2 female condom. In addition, many health clinics, pharmacies and beauty salons stock them .
Only buy female condoms with the original branding. Avoid resold products as they may not have the same level of quality. In Europe and the UK, look for the BSI Kitemark or CE mark on the packaging, which indicates a high standard of safety testing .
As for the Cupid female condom, the brand website allows for online purchasing, with the business based in India .
The VA W.O.W. is available online at World Condoms; there is no purchase option on their website .
Costs of Internal Condoms
The cost of female condoms varies, but the FC2 is the cheapest. The Female Health Company’s Patient Assistance Program sells 12-packs at $28.95 each, and 24-packs at $47.95 each. This is an average of $2.41 for the 12-pack, and $2.00 for the 24-pack. Shipping is free throughout the country .
VA W.O.W. is the most expensive, at $9.95 for a pack of three .
In a nutshell, what do we need to know about the female condom?
How Do Female Condoms Feel?
You may notice either increased or decreased sexual pleasure with a female condom. For example, the outer ring could stimulate your clitoris, but the external part may reduce stimulation to your labia. Pre-lubrication could enhance pleasure too .
Some couples report feeling more comfortable because of the stronger, more durable material, despite initial fears that the condom would slip or be pushed aside. Gentle insertion is key to a comfortable experience from start to finish, however, rapidly releasing the closed-end can feel like a rubber band .
What Is the Correct Way To Use a Condom?
For male condoms, your male partner must unroll it over his erect penis, starting from the tip and holding the end of the condom. After sex, he must hold onto the open end while pulling out .
A female condom can be inserted beforehand so you can enjoy sex uninterrupted. The smaller end, or inner ring, enters first to cover your cervix, while the external ring sits just in the vaginal opening .
Are Female Condoms Safer Than Male Condoms?
Internal condoms are at least as safe as male external condoms. A study on chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis and trichomoniasis rates found a non-significantly lower rate of STDs among women using female condoms . A non-significant drop means that wearing a female condom was less likely to be the cause of their lower STD rates.
The improved disease control may be from the outer labia being protected by female condoms, unlike the male alternative. Women often report a better ability to negotiate and more confidence in asserting their need for safer sex, so with greater autonomy over your birth control, you may feel safer with a female condom.
Do Female Condoms Break Easily?
The risk of your condom breaking is low. Research comparing the FC2 with several new or tried female condoms found only a 0.82% chance of any breakage with the FC2. For clinical breakage, where the damage occurred during sex, the rate was only 0.25% .
The Women’s Condom, VA-wow and Cupid, all new condom brands under review at the time, had total breakage rates between 0.67% and 0.84% .
The female condom, or internal condom, is an effective way to protect you against infections during vaginal, anal and oral sex. Many women report greater comfort and sense of security, with the same ability to prevent pregnancy that male condoms offer.
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- This study was a collaborative endeavor by the *Philadelphia Department of Public Health and †Medical College of Pennsylvania. “Use-Effectiveness of the Female Versus Male Condom in… : Sexually Transmitted Diseases.” LWW, journals.lww.com/stdjournal/Fulltext/2003/05000/Male_Condom_and_Female_Condom_Use_Among_Women.10.aspx.