Whether it’s your first time having sex or the thousandth, if you’re sexually active and don’t want to get pregnant (or any nasty STIs) it’s essential to practice safe sex. If you’re reviewing your contraception, you might consider female condoms. But what exactly are female condoms? How do they work? And what are the pros and cons? Read on to find out.
What are female condoms?
Let’s clear something up straight away. Although they’re most commonly referred to as ‘female condoms’, or even ‘Femidoms’, ‘internal condoms’ is a more fitting term as they can be used by people identifying as men and women, both for vaginal and anal sex.
Invented in 1984 by Lasse Hessel and a team of Danish scientists, the female condom or internal condom is, just like the male condom or external condom, a barrier method of contraception which protects both against pregnancy and STIs.
Female condoms look similar to male condoms in that they’re long plastic, transparent pouches, but they have two flexible rings at both ends to hold them in place.
How to use a female condom
Inserting a female condom can be a little tricky at first, but with some practice you can get the hang of it. Here’s how you use them correctly:
- Insert the condom before there is any contact between the penis and vagina or anus. This can be done up to eight hours before intercourse but also just 2 minutes before sex.
- Put lubricant on the closed end of the condom to make it easier to insert.
- Like with a tampon, you might find it’s more comfortable to insert it in a certain position, whether that’s lying down, squatting, or standing with one leg on a chair.
- Squeeze the ring together on the closed end and insert it in your vagina as far as it will go, just like a tampon. The same applies if you insert it into your bottom for anal sex.
- Let go of the ring so that it opens and stays in place.
- Let the open ring on the other end hang about 2.5 cm (an inch) outside your vagina or bottom.
- Remove the condom right after sex. Twist the open end closed so that the semen stays inside and gently pull it out.
Just like with external condoms, you should use a new condom every time you have sex and be careful not to tear it when you open the packet. And never use a female condom and a male condom at the same time. Aside from being unnecessary, this can create friction and cause tearing.
The Pros of Female Condoms
Protection against STIs
Just like “regular condoms” female condoms are a barrier method, so they’re effective at protecting you from a wide range of STIs like HIV and chlamydia.
They’re an effective form of contraception
When used correctly, female condoms are about 95% effective at protecting against pregnancy. While that means that in a year, 5 out of 100 women who use them the right way every time will get pregnant, it’s important to remember that no form of contraception is 100% effective.
Instead, female condoms are usually made from synthetic latex which are non-irritating for people who are allergic to natural rubber latex.
Little to no side effects
Unlike hormonal contraceptives, the internal condom has no medical side effects. If you do experience any irritation, you can cease use immediately. The same can’t be said for long-term hormonal methods.
Small, portable and available without a prescription or doctor’s appointment, they’re a very convenient contraceptive for many women. Plus, you can actually insert a female condom up to 8 hours before you have sex, so you won’t have to put the breaks on the action to insert it.
Compatible with all lubes
You can use internal condoms with any water- or oil-based lubricant, unlike latex condoms which can’t be used with oil-based lubes.
Female condoms are empowering
Last but not least, many women find using internal condoms incredibly empowering as it puts them in control of protecting themselves and their partner from STIs and unwanted pregnancies. What’s more, an erect penis isn’t needed to keep the female condom in place, so they give you peace of mind if your partner loses their erection.
The cons of female condoms
They’re not as effective as the external condom
Even when properly used, internal condoms are slightly less effective at protecting against STIs and pregnancy than external ones. With proper use, male condoms are 98% effective at protecting against pregnancy compared to 95% for female condoms. When used incorrectly, it’s estimated that about 21 out of 100 female condom users will get pregnant every year compared to 18 women for male condom users.
They can be noisy
Some couples find that they make a noisy rustling sound during sex which can be distracting and spoil the mood. However, many couples find that adding more lubricant helps to reduce noise.
Female condoms tend to be more expensive
Because there’s less demand for female condoms than male condoms, they’re usually more expensive. This is a real bummer! On the other hand, you may be able to get them free on prescription. It all depends on your health care provider and where you live.
They can be harder to find
Again, because there’s less demand for female condoms they might not stock them in your local pharmacy or store, which sucks. But you can always find them at Planned Parenthood or purchase them online.
Your body, your choice
Ultimately, the type of contraception you use is your choice. They all have pros and cons, and it’s up to you to find the option that works best for you.
And remember, our bodies and lifestyles change throughout our lives, so just because one form of birth control worked for you in the past doesn’t mean you can’t try something else now.
If you’d like to find out more about your birth control options and how to protect yourself and your partner(s) from STIs make sure to listen to the following collections on the Emjoy app.