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The condom on a banana demonstration is a staple image of sex education. Yet, there’s another type of condom that we don’t hear about as much.
We’re talking about female condoms, which are external and used for vaginal and anal sex. Let’s check out the differences between male and female condoms, as well as how to use them.
What are female condoms? Are they the same as internal condoms?
Female and internal condoms are two terms for the same product. Female condoms go inside your vagina or anus to provide protection against unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Like male condoms, they are not for reuse.
Female condoms are usually bigger than male condoms. They have an inner flexible ring on the closed end of the condom and an outer anchor on the other. Connecting these two parts creates a sheath-like casing made of synthetic latex (or polyurethane) that lines the wall of your vagina. Female condoms can also be used for anal sex.
The inner ring helps you put the condom in and then secures it in place during sex. The anchor needs to stay outside to prevent it from being pushed all the way inside during sex. After sex, the anchor gives you something to grab onto to remove it (Beksinska, 2011).
Where can I get a female condom?
If you’ve been looking for female condoms in stores, you might notice they’re harder to find than male contraceptives. One survey found less than 1% of pharmacies had female condoms in stock at the time of the survey (Hsu, 2020).
Female condoms are an over-the-counter (OTC) product. You can buy it OTC or with a prescription from a healthcare provider. Depending on your health insurance, it could cover some or all of the cost (similar to prescription medications).
You can also leverage technology to find internal condoms. FC2 is the only female condom that’s FDA-approved and available in the United States (Veru, 2020). The company’s website provides information on where to get these condoms and how to use them. You can buy a pack directly from their site or see what other places sell them online.
If you don’t want to buy a whole box, sometimes places like Planned Parenthood and college health centers provide female condoms for free.
Tips on when to start birth control pills
How to use a female condom
Condoms work best when used correctly. Here are some general steps on how to use a female condom. You can also review the package insert or check the manufacturer’s website for videos and more detailed instructions.
- First things first, open the package and inspect the condom. FC2 recommends using the perforated edges to open the package rather than scissors, which could accidentally cut the condom.
- Take the condom out and check for rips or tears. Even if it’s a tiny tear, don’t use condoms that are damaged as it can raise your risk of pregnancy and STIs.
- After you’ve inspected the condom for damage, locate the closed end and the open end. The inner ring has the closed end.
- Using two fingers, squeeze the inner ring to make it long and narrow, and then insert it into your vagina. Despite the flexible ring, this part can cause some discomfort. Getting into a comfortable position (like how you would put in a tampon) can help.
- Use your fingers to push the condom into your vagina as far as it can go. It should be near your pubic bone, resting on your cervix. Make sure the open end (the anchor) stays outside your vagina.
- During sex, make sure the penis goes into the open end of the condom––not above, below, or to the side of the opening. You can use your hand to guide the penis into the condom.
- When you’re done, twist the outer ring and gently pull it out. You can wrap it back up in its original packaging and then throw it away.
Like male condoms, these ones are for single use only so make sure to use a new condom every time (Veru, 2019).
It’s also not recommended to use an FC2 condom and a male condom at the same time. Two condoms don’t provide double protection, instead causing friction and raising the risk of breakage (Veru, 2017).
Non-hormonal birth control options
Are female condoms effective?
Female condoms are about 95% effective when used correctly. While rare, female condoms can tear, turn inside out, or slip out during sex. If this happens, semen and small organisms that cause STIs can enter your body (Beksinska, 2006).
Condom problems can happen with internal and external condoms, especially when you first start using them. One study found that male condoms were more likely to break than female condoms. The study also found female condoms were more likely to slip out of the vagina or have the outer ring pushed inside during sex (Valappil, 2005).
Disadvantages of female condoms
One disadvantage of female condoms is getting them––as mentioned, they can be hard to find.
In clinical studies on female condoms, most of the side effects reported were pain and discomfort. Some people experienced pain and discomfort when they inserted the condom.
A small number of people also reported burning, itching, or a rash from the condoms. If you’ve had allergic reactions to silicone before, you may experience these symptoms (Beksinska, 2006).
How do female condoms compare to male ones?
Both types of condoms have advantages and disadvantages. Which is better suited for you depends on your personal preference.
The internal condom is a female-initiated form of birth control that puts the user in control. Unlike male condoms, they don’t require an erect penis for proper use.
Another bonus is you can insert an FC2 condom up to two hours before sex. It’s also made of nitrile, making it a good option for people with latex allergies (Veru, 2017).
Can you get pregnant from precum?
A significant drawback of FC2 condoms is acquisition. Unlike external condoms, internal condoms aren’t sold in convenience stores or stocked in pharmacies. If you do find them in stores or online, the average price is more than male condoms, sometimes double.
Lastly, female condoms may be less effective than male ones. The FC2 condom is 95% effective, while male condoms are 98% effective (Mahdy, 2021).
- Beksinska, M., Smit, J., Mabude, Z., Vijayakumar, G., & Joanis, C. (2006). Performance of the Reality® polyurethane female condom and a synthetic latex prototype: a randomized crossover trial among South African women. Contraception, 73(4), 386–393. doi:10.1016/j.contraception.2005.07.015. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16531173/
- Beksinska, M., Smit, J., Joanis, C., Usher-Patel, M., & Potter, W. (2011). Female condom technology: new products and regulatory issues. Contraception, 83(4), 316–321. doi:10.1016/j.contraception.2010.07.022. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21397088/
- Hsu, R., Tavrow, P., Uysal, J., & Alterman, A. E. (2019). Seeking the female (internal) condom in retail pharmacies: Experiences of adolescent mystery callers. Contraception, 101(2), 117-121. doi:10.1016/j.contraception.2019.10.006. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31811842/
- Mahdy, H., Shaeffer, A. D., & McNabb, D. M. (2021). Condoms. In StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing. Retrieved September 12, 2021 from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29261966/
- Valappil, T., Kelaghan, J., Macaluso, M., Artz, L., Austin, H., Fleenor, M. E., Robey, L., & Hook, E. W., 3rd (2005). Female condom and male condom failure among women at high risk of sexually transmitted diseases. Sexually Transmitted Diseases, 32(1), 35–43. doi: 10.1097/01.olq.0000148295.60514.0b. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15614119/
- Veru Inc. (2017, April 21). Frequently asked questions. FC2 Female Condom. Retrieved September 12, 2021 from https://fc2.us.com/frequently-asked-questions/.
- Veru Inc. (2019). FC2 Female Condom. Miami, FL: Author. Retrieved from https://fc2.us.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/Female-Condom_USA-Leaflet_G0066_SEPT2019.pdf
- Veru Inc. (2020, October 6). About FC2®. FC2 Female Condom. Retrieved September 12, 2021 from https://fc2.us.com/about-fc2/
Yael Cooperman is a physician and works as a Senior Manager, Medical Content & Education at Ro.