The female condom, like the male condom, is a barrier device used for birth control.
Condoms for women
The female condom protects against pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), including HIV. However, it is not thought to be as effective for protecting against STDs as the male condom.
The female condom is made of a thin, strong plastic called polyurethane. It fits 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 estimated to be between 75% and 82% effective. The reasons for failure are the same as those for the male condom:
- A rip or tear in a condom (can be made before or during intercourse)
- Delayed placement of a condom in the vagina (penis comes into contact with vagina before condom is in place)
- Failure to use a condom during each act of intercourse
- Rarely, failure due to manufacturing defects
- Spilling of semen from a condom while removing it
- Condoms are available without a prescription, and they are fairly inexpensive (though more expensive than male condoms).
- Currently, you can buy female condoms at most drugstores. They are also available at most sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) clinics or family planning clinics.
- Some planning may be needed to have a condom handy at the time of intercourse. However, they may be inserted up to 8 hours before intercourse. You may also make inserting the condom part of your lovemaking.
- 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 STDs without relying on the male condom.
- Protects against pregnancy and STDs.
- Friction of the condom may reduce clitoral stimulation and lubrication, making intercourse less enjoyable or even uncomfortable (using the provided lubricant may relieve this problem).
- Irritation and allergic reactions may occur.
- The condom may make noise (using the lubricant may relieve this problem).
- 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.
- 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.
Susan Storck, MD, FACOG, Chief, Eastside Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Group Health Cooperative of Puget Sound, Redmond, Washington; Clinical Teaching Faculty, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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