Advantages and disadvantages of female condoms
What are female condoms and how do they work?
Female condoms or Femidoms (currently the only brand in the UK and Ireland) are a form of barrier contraception. They are worn inside the vagina and should be inserted before sex. They prevent pregnancy by covering the inside of the vagina and collecting all the semen released before and during ejaculation. This stops sperm travelling to the womb and fertilising an egg. Female condoms also help to protect against STIs.
Female condoms are approximately 6.5 inches long and have flexible rings at each end. They are typically made from a thin, soft plastic called polyurethane, which is similar to male condoms.
What are the advantages of using female condoms?
Female condoms do not require a prescription, are easy to purchase and can be inserted into the vagina up to 8 hours before you plan to have sex. They are popular among women who want to share the responsibility for having safe sex. Unlike male condoms, they are suitable for those with an allergy to latex, can be used with oil-based lubricants as well as water-based and are non-hormonal. Female condoms are not reported to have any common side effects. They also protect you and your partner against STIs.
How effective are female condoms?
When in date and used correctly, female condoms are 95% effective. This means that fewer than five women in a hundred will get pregnant while using the female condom. Just like male condoms, they can tear before or during sex and should be checked before and after sex for any damage. They can be damaged by sharp fingernails or by getting caught on jewellery, so it is advisable to remove sharp jewellery before inserting them. If the condom is torn before or during sex, you may not be protected against pregnancy or STIs, so please seek advice about emergency contraception and STI testing.
You must use a female condom correctly to ensure that it is effective. Be careful to make sure that:
- The condom is not damaged
- The penis does not make contact with the vagina before the condom has been inserted
- The condom is not pushed too far up inside the vagina, leaving areas of the vagina unprotected by the condom
- The man’s penis enters the vagina inside the condom, not outside the condom by mistake
- The condom is removed carefully after sex so as not to spill the contents of the condom
What do I do if the female condom breaks?
The female condom is unlikely to break if it is used correctly. However, if it does break, treat it the same way you would a male condom – remove carefully and consider emergency contraception. Remember that emergency contraception is to be used in emergencies only, and not as a regular form of contraception.
You may want to consider using a second form of contraception to protect against pregnancy if a female condom breaks or fails. Additional forms of contraception you could consider include the contraceptive pill, the contraceptive implant or an IUD.
If a condom does break, you may also be at risk of having contracted an STI and may want to take an STI test to check.
How and when do I insert a female condom?
The female condom can be inserted several hours before sex and does not need to interrupt foreplay or be inserted just before penetrative sex takes place.
Inserting a female condom gets much easier with practice, but is not particularly tricky to use. Get in a comfortable position for insertion, much like the one you would adopt when inserting a tampon. This could be standing with one leg up, sitting on the edge of a chair, lying down or squatting, depending on what feels comfortable for you.
Female condoms usually come pre-lubricated. If it makes it more comfortable for you, you can add some extra lubrication. Next, identify the inner ring of the condom, which will be on the closed end. Hold the sides of the inner ring and insert into the vagina right up to the entrance to your cervix, much like you would a tampon, only slightly deeper. The outer ring should protrude from the vagina about an inch. The female condom is now inserted. Similar instructions apply for anal use.
It may move slightly from side to side during sex, which is normal. Be careful to make sure that the penis goes inside the condom, and does not enter the vagina outside of the walls of the condom. If the outer ring is pushed into the vagina, simply stop and take it out.
How do I remove a female condom?
Female condoms are simple to remove, but you should be careful to ensure you don't let any semen spill out. Squeeze and twist the outer ring outside the vagina, close the condom, and keep the liquid inside it. Pull it out slowly and gently, and dispose of it hygienically in a bin. Don’t flush it down the toilet!
Can I use female condoms at the same time as male condoms?
Male and female condoms should not be used together. They can rub against each other during sex which can tear one or both condoms. When used correctly, the difference in efficacy is not big, and two are not necessary.
Can I use a female condom while I'm on my period?
As long as you have removed your tampon, there is no reason why you should not use a female condom while on your period.
Can I use female condoms during pregnancy?
Female condoms can be used during pregnancy as they do not go beyond the cervix and will not ever reach or interfere with the fetus.
Can I use lubrication with female condoms?
Female condoms are already lubricated, but you can use any kind of lubricant with them.
Will my partner be able to feel that I am wearing a female condom during sex?
Your partner shouldn't really feel the condom while having sex. Unlike the male condom, the female condom is not tight on the penis and therefore does not dull sensation.
Can the female condom get lost or stuck in my body?
The closed end of the female condom covers the cervix, and it is wide enough that it cannot travel up through the cervix. There is no chance of the female condom getting lost inside your body and the outer ring makes it easy to remove.
Do female condoms protect from STIs?
Yes, condoms, if used correctly, can help reduce the risk of transmitting STIs. They are not 100% protective, but they greatly reduce the risk.
Can I use a female condom more than once?
No. Female condoms, like male condoms, should be safely disposed of after sex and you should use a new one each time you have sex.
Do I need to check female condoms for a Kitemark?
Just like male condoms, all female condom packets should bear either the CE mark or the BSI Kitemark. This mark means that the brand of condom is tested to high standards and certified.