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Female condoms

Definition

The female condom, like the male condom, is a barrier device used for birth control.

Alternative Names

Condoms for women

Information

The female condom protects against pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV. However, it is not thought to work as well as male condoms in protecting against STIs.

The female condom is made of a thin, strong plastic called polyurethane. A newer version is made of a substance called nitrile and is much cheaper. These condoms fit inside the vagina.

The condom has a ring on each end. The ring that is placed inside the vagina fits over the cervix, covering it with the protective rubber material. The other ring, which is open, rests outside of the vagina and covers the vulva.

HOW EFFECTIVE IS IT?

The female condom is about 75% - 82% effective with typical use. When used correctly all of the time, female condoms is 95% effective. They fail for the same reason as male condoms:

  • A rip or tear in a condom (can be made before or during intercourse)
  • The condom is not placed before the penis touches the vagina
  • Failure to use a condom each time you have intercourse
  • Rarely, failure due to manufacturing defects
  • Spilling of semen from a condom while removing it

CONVENIENCE

  • Condoms are available without a prescription
  • They are fairly inexpensive (though more expensive than male condoms).
  • You can buy female condoms at most drugstores, STI clinics, and family planning clinics.
  • You need to plan to have a condom on hand when you have sex. However, female condoms may be placed up to 8 hours before intercourse. You may also make inserting the condom part of your lovemaking.

PROS

  • Can be used during menstruation or pregnancy, or after recent childbirth.
  • Eliminates the woman's concern that the man won't wear a condom. She can protect herself from pregnancy and STIs without relying on the male condom.
  • Protects against pregnancy and STIs.

CONS

  • Friction of the condom may reduce clitoral stimulation and lubrication, making intercourse less enjoyable or even uncomfortable (using the provided lubricant may help).
  • Irritation and allergic reactions may occur.
  • The condom may make noise (using the lubricant may help). The newer version is much quieter.
  • There is no direct contact between the penis and the vagina.
  • The woman is not aware of warm fluid entering her body (important to some women, not to others).

HOW TO USE A FEMALE CONDOM

  • Find the inner ring of the condom, and hold it between your thumb and middle finger.
  • Squeeze the ring together and insert it as far as possible into the vagina, making sure that the inner ring is past the pubic bone.
  • Leave the outer ring outside of the vagina.
  • Make sure that the condom has not become twisted.
  • Before intercourse, and during it if needed, put a couple of drops of water-based lubricant on the penis.
  • After intercourse, and before standing up, squeeze and twist the outer ring to make sure the semen stays inside, and remove the condom by pulling gently. Use it only once.

DISPOSING OF FEMALE CONDOMS

You should always throw condoms in the trash. Do not flush a female condom down the toilet. It is likely to clog the plumbing.

IMPORTANT TIPS

  • Be careful not to tear condoms with sharp fingernails or jewelry.
  • Do not use a female condom and a male condom at the same time. Friction between them can cause them to bunch up or tear.
  • Do not use a petroleum-based substance such as Vaseline as a lubricant. These substances break down latex.
  • If a condom tears or breaks, the outer ring is pushed up inside the vagina, or the condom bunches up inside the vagina during intercourse, remove it and insert another condom right away.
  • Make sure condoms are available and convenient. If there are no condoms handy at the time of a sexual encounter, you may be tempted to have intercourse without one.
  • Remove tampons before inserting the condom.
  • When you remove the condom after intercourse, and you notice that it is torn or broken, some sperm may have spilled inside the vagina, increasing your risk of becoming pregnant. Contact your health care provider or pharmacy for information about emergency contraception (Plan B). If you use condoms regularly as your contraceptive, ask your health care provider or pharmacist about having Plan B on hand to use in case of a condom accident.
  • Use each condom only once.

References

Mishell DR. Contraception. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 246.

Linares AC, Schutt-Ain AI. Contraception. In: Rakel RE, ed. Textbook of Family Medicine. 8th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 26.


Review Date: 8/9/2012
Reviewed By: A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, and David R. Eltz. Previously reviewed by Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director and Director of Didactic Curriculum, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington; and Susan Storck, MD, FACOG, Chief, Eastside Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Group Health Cooperative of Puget Sound, Bellevue, Washington; Clinical Teaching Faculty, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Washington School of Medicine (2/26/2012).
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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