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Female Condoms

Topic Overview

What is a female condom?

Condoms can protect you against sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and they can be used to prevent pregnancy.

The female condom is a tube of soft plastic (polyurethane) that has a closed end. Each end has a ring or rim. The ring at the closed end is inserted deep into the woman's vagina over the cervix, like a diaphragm, to hold the tube in place. The ring at the open end remains outside the opening of the vagina.

The female condom is a barrier method of birth control.

How do you get female condoms?

Female condom use doesn't require a prescription or a visit to a health professional. Condoms are sold in drugstores and family planning clinics.

How well do female condoms work to prevent pregnancy?

If used perfectly, the method failure rate for the female condom is 5%, meaning that with perfect use, 5 women out of 100 will become pregnant in the first year of use. With typical use, 21 women in 100 will become pregnant in the first year of use.1 This is mostly caused by not using the condom every time with intercourse or by not following the directions for use.

How well do they work to prevent sexually transmitted infections (STIs)?

The female condom provides some protection of the genital area around the opening to the vagina during intercourse. And it may reduce the risk of getting or transmitting diseases such as genital herpes or genital warts. Some studies suggest that female condoms are as effective as male condoms in preventing STIs.2

How do you use a female condom?

The female condom can be inserted up to 8 hours before sexual intercourse. It contains lubricant on the inside. It shouldn't be used with a male condom.

The female condom should be removed immediately after intercourse, while the woman is still lying down. The outside ring is twisted to close off the condom and hold the semen inside before the condom is removed.

A new condom should be used with each act of sexual intercourse.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of female condoms?

Advantages

The female condom:

  • Doesn't affect future fertility for either the woman or the man.
  • Is used only at the time of sexual intercourse.
  • Is safe to use while breast-feeding.
  • Is safe to use if you have a medical condition that limits your choices of other birth control methods.
  • Is available in drugstores without a prescription.
  • Provides some protection against STIs.
  • Keeps semen from touching the woman's vagina. A few women are allergic to their partner's semen.
Disadvantages
  • Failure rates for barrier methods are higher than for most other methods of birth control.
  • Female condoms are more difficult to use than male condoms.
  • Some people are embarrassed to use this method or feel it interrupts foreplay or intercourse.
  • The couple must be comfortable with using the condom and be prepared to use it every time they have sex.
  • Condoms may decrease sexual sensation.

If a condom tears, emergency contraception is available as an extra method of birth control.

References

Citations

  1. Trussell J (2007). Choosing a contraceptive: Efficacy, safety, and personal considerations. In RA Hatcher et al., eds., Contraceptive Technology, 19th ed., pp. 19–47. New York: Ardent Media.
  2. Minnis AM, Padian NS (2005). Effectiveness of female controlled barrier methods in preventing sexually transmitted infections and HIV: Current evidence and future research directions. Sexually Transmitted Infections, 81(3): 193–200.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Sarah Marshall, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Femi Olatunbosun, MB, FRCSC - Obstetrics and Gynecology
Last Revised May 3, 2012

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