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What is a female condom?

Condoms can protect you against sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and they can be used to prevent pregnancy.

The female condom is a tube of soft plastic (polyurethane) that has a closed end. Each end has a ring or rim. The ring at the closed end is inserted deep into the woman's vagina over the cervix, like a diaphragm, to hold the tube in place. The ring at the open end remains outside the opening of the vagina.

The female condom is a barrier method of birth control.

How do you get female condoms?

Female condom use doesn't require a prescription or a visit to a health professional. Condoms are sold in drugstores and family planning clinics.

How well do female condoms work to prevent pregnancy?

If used perfectly, the method failure rate for the female condom is 5%, meaning that with perfect use, 5 women out of 100 will become pregnant in the first year of use. With typical use, 21 women in 100 will become pregnant in the first year of use.1 This is mostly caused by not using the condom every time with intercourse or by not following the directions for use.

How well do they work to prevent sexually transmitted infections (STIs)?

The female condom provides some protection of the genital area around the opening to the vagina during intercourse. And it may reduce the risk of getting or transmitting diseases such as genital herpes or genital warts. Some studies suggest that female condoms work as well as male condoms in preventing STIs.2

How do you use a female condom?

You can insert a female condom up to 8 hours before sexual intercourse. This condom contains lubricant on the inside. Use a new condom each time you have intercourse. Don't use a female condom with a male condom.

  • These condoms have lubricant on the inside. Spread it by rubbing the sides of the condom together. You can also add lubricant.
  • Find a comfortable position to insert the condom. Some women stand with one foot on a chair. Other women sit on the edge of a chair or lie down.
  • Insert one finger into the condom. With your other hand, squeeze together the closed end of the condom and place that end into your vagina. Use the finger inside the condom to push the closed end as far into the vagina as it will go.
  • The open end of the condom will hang about an inch outside your vagina.
  • During intercourse, the penis should be inside the condom.
  • After ejaculation, remove the condom right away.
    • Twist the open outside ring to close off the condom and hold the semen inside before the condom is removed.
    • Pull the condom out before you stand up.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of female condoms?

Advantages

The female condom:

  • Doesn't affect future fertility for either the woman or the man.
  • Is used only at the time of sexual intercourse.
  • Is safe to use while breast-feeding.
  • Is safe to use if you have a medical condition that limits your choices of other birth control methods.
  • Is available in drugstores without a prescription.
  • Provides some protection against STIs.
  • Keeps semen from touching the woman's vagina. A few women are allergic to their partner's semen.
Disadvantages
  • Failure rates for barrier methods are higher than for most other methods of birth control.
  • Female condoms are more difficult to use than male condoms.
  • Some people are embarrassed to use this method or feel it interrupts foreplay or intercourse.
  • The couple must be comfortable with using the condom and be prepared to use it every time they have sex.
  • Condoms may decrease sexual sensation.

If a condom tears, emergency contraception is available as an extra method of birth control.

  • Barrier Methods of Birth Control
  • Birth Control
  • High-Risk Sexual Behavior
  • Sexually Transmitted Infections

Citations

  1. Trussell J (2007). Choosing a contraceptive: Efficacy, safety, and personal considerations. In RA Hatcher et al., eds., Contraceptive Technology, 19th ed., pp. 19–47. New York: Ardent Media.

  2. Minnis AM, Padian NS (2005). Effectiveness of female controlled barrier methods in preventing sexually transmitted infections and HIV: Current evidence and future research directions. Sexually Transmitted Infections, 81(3): 193–200.


By: Healthwise Staff Current as of: June 4, 2014
Medical Review: Sarah Marshall, MD - Family Medicine
Femi Olatunbosun, MB, FRCSC - Obstetrics and Gynecology

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