The female condom is a birth control (contraceptive) device that acts as a barrier to keep sperm from entering the uterus. The female condom is a soft, loosefitting pouch with a ring on each end. One ring is inserted into the vagina to hold the female condom in place. The ring at the open end of the condom remains outside the vagina.
Only two female condoms — the FC1 female condom and its replacement the FC2 female condom — have Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval in the U.S. The FC1 female condom, which is made of plastic (polyurethane), is no longer being produced. The FC2 female condom is made of synthetic latex and is pre-lubricated with a silicone-based lubricant.
Why it's done
The female condom helps prevent pregnancy. Among various benefits, the female condom:
- Offers protection from sexually transmitted infections — perhaps even better protection than the male condom because the female condom partly covers the labia
- Is available without a prescription or special fitting
- Can be inserted hours before sex
- Rarely causes allergic reactions and has minimal risk of side effects
- Doesn't require a partner's cooperation or an erect penis
Unlike latex — the material used to make most male condoms — female condoms made of polyurethane and synthetic latex aren't affected by dampness or changes in temperature. In addition, some women find that the female condom's external ring stimulates the clitoris.
The female condom isn't appropriate for everyone, however. You may want to consider another type of birth control if you:
- Are allergic to polyurethane or synthetic latex
- Are at high risk of pregnancy — you're younger than age 30, you have sex three or more times a week, you've had previous contraceptive failure with vaginal barrier methods, or you're not likely to consistently use the female condom
- Aren't comfortable with the insertion technique
- Have vaginal abnormalities that interfere with the fit, placement or retention of the female condom
An estimated 21 out of 100 women will become pregnant in the first year of typical use of female condoms — usually because they don't use condoms every time they have sex.
The female condom has a higher failure rate than the male condom. Condom failure means it's possible to contract sexually transmitted infections or become pregnant. The female condom may not protect you if:
- The condom breaks
- The condom slips out of the vagina
- The penis slips between the vagina and the outside of the condom
- The outer ring of the condom gets pushed into the vagina during sex
The female condom may also cause discomfort during insertion, a burning sensation, itching or a rash.
How you prepare
Before using a female condom, read the instructions carefully. If the condom is past its expiration date or you notice any signs of damage — such as small tears or holes — discard the condom and choose another. Practice inserting the female condom before the first time you use it for sex. In addition, pay close attention when you first use the female condom to make sure it stays in place during sex.
Don't use a female condom at the same time as a male condom or for anal sex. Never reuse a female condom.
What you can expect
To use the female condom:
- Open the package carefully. Don't use your teeth or fingernails, which could tear the condom.
- Consider using spermicide or additional lubrication. For the most effective pregnancy protection, apply spermicide to the outside of the closed end of the condom before you place it in your vagina. You can apply additional water-based or oil-based lubricant to the condom to make it easier to insert and to minimize noise during sex.
- Insert the female condom. Squeeze the ring at the closed end of the pouch with your middle finger and thumb and insert it into your vagina like a tampon. Place your index finger inside the condom and push the ring up as far as it will go. Don't allow the condom to twist. Make sure the outer ring remains outside the vagina, extending about 1 inch (or about 2.5 centimeters) beyond the labia. You can place the female condom inside your vagina up to eight hours before sex.
- Guide the penis into the female condom. Make sure the penis doesn't slip between the vagina and the outer surface of the female condom. During sex, make sure the outer ring of the condom doesn't get pushed into the vagina.
- After sex, remove the female condom carefully. Twist the outer ring so that the semen is contained in the condom and gently pull the device out of your vagina. Dispose of the female condom in the trash — not the toilet.