I'd like to add that I just attended a lecture at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (LGBT) Center downtown, discussing safe sex practices for women who have sex with women. Oftentimes,...
What is a female condom?
Originally Published: February 2, 2001 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: July 17, 2009
What is a female condom?
A female condom is a method of contraception worn by women that's inserted inside the vagina before intercourse. Made of soft polyurethane (a type of plastic), it's shaped like a long tube or sheath — with one closed end and one open end — creating a barrier between the penis and the vaginal canal. Similar to the male condom, when used consistently and correctly, the female condom prevents pregnancy and protects against HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs). For some women, the female condom is an ideal form of contraception because it is woman-controlled — women can take the initiative to protect themselves, particularly those whose partners are unwilling or unable to use male condoms. It can also be a good alternative for those who have a latex sensitivity or allergy.
The female condom can be a bit intimidating to someone who has never seen or used one before. Once familiar with it, it can be easy to use. If you look at the female condom, you'll notice that at each end, there's a flexible polyurethane ring. These rings help to keep the female condom in place once it's inserted. The fixed outer ring has an opening, where the penis glides in and out of the vagina during intercourse. The moveable inner ring secures the tube in place and is closed off by polyurethane so that it can collect the ejaculated sperm.
To insert the female condom:
- hold the sheath at the closed end and pinch the inner ring so that it becomes long and narrow.
- gently insert the inner ring end as far into the vagina as possible, using your index finger to push up the inner ring until your finger reaches your cervix (similar to how a diaphragm would be inserted). It won't go in too deep or get lost inside your vagina. When in place, it'll cover the opening of the cervix and line the vaginal walls. A general indicator is that you'll no longer be able to feel the ring. The outer ring must always remain outside the vaginal opening.
- before having intercourse, be sure that it hangs straight and isn't twisted. Then, add water-based lube on the penis and/or to the inside of the female condom to increase comfort and decrease noise.
- after intercourse, twist the outer ring, gently remove the female condom, and discard (don't flush it down the toilet).
If you choose this method of contraception, carefully read the instructions enclosed in the box before use.
Some women like to practice inserting the female condom a few times before having intercourse so they can become comfortable using it. Keep in mind that each female condom can only be used once. Also, never use the female condom together with a male condom. Rather than providing double the protection, using two condoms can create more friction, and make one of both of the condoms more likely to break during sex.
Before using this method of contraception, consider the following advantages and disadvantages:
- A woman can take the initiative and offer her partner the choice between his or her condoms.
- It provides protection against HIV and other STIs since the polyurethane acts as a barrier.
- It can be inserted immediately or up to eight hours before having intercourse.
- A man doesn't have to be fully erect when his partner uses the female condom.
- Those who are sensitive or allergic to latex are often able to use products made of polyurethane.
- It can be purchased over-the-counter.
- It's more expensive than male condoms.
- It may be awkward to use because the outer ring must stay outside of the vagina during intercourse.
- Since the female condom is inserted into the vagina, it's necessary to be comfortable touching the genital area.
- It may cause irritation.
- Without enough lube, it can make strange sounds.
The female condom is sold under the brand name Female Condom®, and is available over-the-counter at drug and grocery stores in the same section as male condoms. For answers to common questions and other information about the female condom, check out the manufacturer's web site: the Female Health Company.
For more information about polyurethane condoms, read Four kinds of condoms: A guide for consumers in Alice's Sexual Health archive.
July 17, 200921569
I'd like to add that I just attended a lecture at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (LGBT) Center downtown, discussing safe sex practices for women who have sex with women. Oftentimes, people wrongly assume that women cannot get STIs or HIV from other women, which is not the case. We learned how to use the female condom for oral sex. The health educators also spoke about using a condom if a woman wanted to use a dildo for protection. The women also stressed the importance of using antibacterial soap before using that specific dildo with a different partner, as well as a condom. We also learned that men who have sex with men often use a female condom, because many find it to be much more durable and so safer and less likely to break.