What is a female condom?

A female condom is a pouch that a woman inserts into her vagina to prevent pregnancy and disease. It works the same way as a traditional condom that is worn by a man – it creates a barrier that prevents sperm from reaching an egg or staying inside the woman’s body. Female condoms are made of a substance called nitrile.

How do I use a female condom?

The female condom has a soft, flexible ring on each end. When inserting the condom, squeeze the inner ring and slide the condom into your vagina as far as it will go, up against the cervix. The outer ring stays outside the vagina. The process of inserting the condom is similar to inserting a tampon. You can do this immediately before having sex or up to eight hours before you do. During sex, your partner’s penis should be inside the condom. Immediately after sex, twist the outer ring – this keeps the semen inside the condom – and gently pull out the condom.

Female condoms can also be used for anal sex, but there’s less research about how effective they are in preventing disease when used this way.

How effective is the female condom?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that 21 percent of women using a female condom will still get pregnant in the first year of use. This means female condoms have been slightly less effective than male condoms, and a lot less effective than many other birth-control methods.

However, there is research indicating that most pregnancies experienced by women using female condoms are a result of not using them properly or consistently, and if a woman is careful and consistent she can increase her chance of not getting pregnant. The CDC uses the term “typical use” for the 21 percent failure rate. The term “perfect use” is used for a much smaller failure rate that is possible if a female condom is used exactly as intended every time. You can also use the female condom in combination with another form of birth control to reduce the chance of becoming pregnant. Do not use female and male condoms at the same time, because they can stick together and tear.

What are some dos and don’ts of using a female condom?

There are several ways to get closer to the CDC’s “perfect use” term. These tips include:

  • Use one every time you have sex, and throw it away afterward. Female condoms are not reusable. They should go in a trash can, because they can clog your toilet.
  • Female condoms contain lubrication, but you can add a lubricant if you like – just don’t use one that is oil-based.
  • A female condom might move around during sex. This is OK as long as the condom doesn’t slip out of the vagina and your partner’s penis doesn’t slip out of the condom. The condom also might make sex a little noisier. Adding lubricant might help with this.
  • Before use, check the package for the expiration date and check the condom itself for defects such as tears. A condom past its expiration date is more likely to break. Also be careful that you don’t damage the condom when opening the package or inserting it, with your teeth, your fingernails or jewelry.
  • Make sure the condom does not become twisted during insertion.

What are the disadvantages of the female condom?

Some of the risk factors in the use of a female condom are the same as those for use of a male condom – for example, the condom might break or tear, or it might slip off of the penis.

Some people using female condoms experience irritation, discomfort or an allergic reaction. This can happen to either partner. Lubricant might help reduce the irritation. It’s possible for the outer ring to be pushed into the vagina during sex.

Another consideration is that female condoms are more expensive than male condoms.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 10/09/2018.

References

  • Office of the Federal Register. . Accessed 10/1/2018.Obstetrical and Gynecological Devices; Reclassification of Single-Use Female Condom, To Be Renamed Single-Use Internal Condom (https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2017/12/04/2017-26011/obstetrical-and-gynecological-devices-reclassification-of-single-use-female-condom-to-be-renamed)
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. . Accessed 10/1/2018.Contraception (https://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/contraception/index.htm)
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. . Accessed 10/1/2018.Female Condom Use (https://www.cdc.gov/condomeffectiveness/Female-condom-use.html)
  • American Pregnancy Association. . Accessed 10/1/2018.Female Condom (http://americanpregnancy.org/preventing-pregnancy/female-condom/)
  • World Health Organization. . Accessed 10/1/2018.Female Condom: Generic Specification, Prequalification and Guideline for Procurement, 2012 (https://www.unfpa.org/sites/default/files/resource-pdf/Female%20Condom%20Generic%20Specification%20EN_1.pdf)

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy