Most people are familiar with external condoms (formerly known as male condoms), and could explain how they work and where you might find them. But what about female condoms, which are also referred to as internal condoms? How much do you know about them? Would you know how to use one, let alone where to buy them? If you are less familiar, or answered no to any of these questions, we are here to help. Reader, pleased to introduce to you, the female condom.
Internal condoms are a great safer sex and pregnancy prevention option, and can be up to 95% effective when used correctly (though some studies have shown average effectiveness is closer to 80%, all things considered). In today’s post, we will discuss everything you need to know about female condoms, including their history, how to safely use them and where you can find them. All aboard!
What are Female Condoms?
Compared to the male, or external, condom, the modern version of the internal condom is relatively newer to the scene. It was actually introduced by a team of Danish scientists led by Lasse Hessel in the 1993. Unlike other forms of sexual health products like the external condom and the birth control pill, the female condom was not initially received with glowing praise by American consumers. Since then, there have been a number of developments to improve the experience and effectiveness of the female condom.
By the way, you may notice that we are alternating between female condoms and internal condoms. Why? Well technically when this product was introduced it was called “the female condom.” In today’s world, we know and acknowledge that not every person with a vagina identifies as female and want to honor both the origins of this product as well as the broad spectrum of sexual and gender identities.
So now that we’ve covered the early days and origin story of internal condoms, just what are they? Unlike their external counterparts, female condoms resemble a clear cylinder, similar to a tall canned beverage, with flexible rings at either end. This condom is unique, as the receptive partner is actually inserting the condom inside either the vagina or the anus (more on that later), even hours before intercourse takes place.
Female condoms work to prevent pregnancy and lower the risk of transmitting STIs through the tried and true barrier method. As the majority of STIs are passed between partners through skin-to-skin contact or contact with bodily fluids, this thin layer of protection helps reduce that risk, as well as lowering the risk of unplanned pregnancy by blocking any sperm from seeking fertilization. It’s the same concept as an external condom, just turned inside out, or rather, outside in. *wink*
How to Use Female Condoms
Curious about how to use female condoms? Here are six key steps:
1. First things first, just like external condoms, you’ll want to start by checking the packaging for the expiration date and to make sure there’s no damage. Any heat damage or small rips or tears in the condom could make it less effective and increase the risk of unplanned pregnancy or STI transmission.
Pro-tip: before opening, gently squeeze the packaging and massage the condom. No, this is not to relax the condom, this is actually to spread the silicone based lubricant evenly inside the packaging. The more you know!
2. As you open the package, make sure to use the notched slit at the top of the package. You’ll want to avoid using your teeth or scissors to make sure you don’t accidentally damage the precious goods inside. You should see a cylinder with one side closed, one side open, featuring two flexible rings.
3. Now, just how do you tell which is the inner ring and which is the outer ring? This one’s easy: the outer ring is at the open end of the condom, and the inner ring is…well, inside the condom. Simple enough, right? Next, you will want to squeeze the center of the inner ring, until it looks like it’s in the shape of a loosely drawn number eight. Insertion can be a little awkward until you get more accustomed, so make sure you’re in a comfortable position, and have applied a liberal amount of silicone or water based lubricant for an extra smooth ride.
4. Once you are ready to insert, push the inner ring back to the opening of the cervix or into the rectum slowly. It may be hard to tell for sure, but there should not be a significant amount of “slack” remaining outside your body (just about an inch). For most people, if you’re pushing on the end of the inner ring that’s closest to you, insertion should probably be as deep as the beginning of your knuckle. If you’re experiencing any pain or discomfort, remove the condom, discard it and start again with a new one. Your sexual health and wellness should not be painful or uncomfortable, and the barrier method is most successful when appropriate safety measures are taken.
Pro-tip: Some experts recommend removing the internal ring for anal sex, but ultimately that decision is up to you, and your comfort. Also, make sure it isn’t twisted, as this can cause issues with insertion as well.
5. Ready to start your sexual experience? During the insertion process, you will want to firmly hold the outer ring of the condom to make sure it doesn’t slip or become inserted itself. If it does, you know the mantra: discard and start again with a new one, just to be safe. And hopefully it’s a great sexual experience, at that!
6. Immediately following, to avoid any contact with bodily fluids from you or your partner, use the outer ring to withdraw the condom, twist the end to avoid any spillage and discard in a trash can (not the toilet, unless you enjoy plumbing issues!). Make sure you discard the wrapper too, as some of the silicone based lube can leak onto sheets and other fabrics and can be a headache to clean. Wash your hands, and that’s it, you're done!
That’s how you use a female condom! If you’re more of a visual learner, check out this helpful how-to video via Planned Parenthood or these steps at FC2 – it walks through the steps of safely using internal condoms.
Pros and Cons of Female Condoms
Internal condoms are pretty cool, but like many sexual health products, it is important to consider the pros and cons before using them in your own sexual life. Here are some of the most important pros and cons to consider:
Internal condoms allow for the receptive partner to control their sexual health directly, and can be a great non-hormonal, non-latex option.
Internal condoms, unlike other forms of birth control like intrauterine devices (IUDs) or cervical caps, are not long-term and not reusable.
Internal condoms pair well with other forms of birth control, including hormonal forms of birth control.
There is only one brand of FDA approved internal condom available in the US (FC2® Female Condom).
Female condoms are compatible with both silicone and water based lube.
Internal condoms aren't as readily available as external condoms, but check here for helpful tips how to find FC2.
Internal condoms are not made of latex (they’re made of a soft plastic called nitrile), nor are either of the rings, and they are a good option for those with latex allergies.
There is only one size of female condom (though it is similar in size to most external condoms and molds to the shape of your internal vaginal canal or rectum once inserted).
Where to Find Female Condoms
At this point, it is worth acknowledging the elephant in the room – female condoms can be a little difficult to find and are not as readily available as their external counterparts. That being said, they can be found in a variety of different locations including Planned Parenthood, health clinics, pharmacies and online. You can purchase the FC2® Internal Condom online on their website. If you’re looking to purchase in bulk for your organization, visit Global Protection’s website — the exclusive distributor of this product to the U.S. public sector.