Female condoms – the pros, the cons and how to use them

28th October, 2022 • 12 min read

Don’t want to use hormonal contraception, like the

birth control pill
or the
implant
? Or are you sick of relying on a male partner to bring a condom when you want to have sex?

Often called a femidom or an internal condom, female condoms aren’t used by as many people as male condoms (also called external condoms), but research shows they’re more popular than you might think, especially once people give them a go.

In a recent study, women said they felt empowered and more in control when they use one, and 85% of women said they’d recommend one to a friend. Internal condoms are the only kind of birth control where you can be in charge and also protect yourself against

sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
.

If you’re wondering how comfortable they are, how effective they are, or what it’s like to have sex with one in place, we’ve got all the info you need.

What is a female condom and how does it work?

A female condom is a thin, plastic, loose-fitting pouch that you put into and around the entrance of your vagina or anus.

Internal condoms are a type of barrier contraception like male condoms – meaning they stop sperm meeting an egg when you have vaginal sex, and prevent STIs from being passed on during vaginal or anal sex.

How to use a female condom

If you’re nervous about putting an internal condom in for the first time, don’t worry. All it takes is a little bit of practice.

For it to work, an internal condom needs to be put in place before sex or foreplay with a penis begins. This is because sperm can leak out of the penis in pre-ejaculation fluid (precum), even before

orgasm
(ejaculation). You can insert it up to 8 hours before you start having sex.

Internal condoms come already lubricated, so it shouldn't be uncomfortable at all, but you can add more lube if you want to.

Here’s our step-by-step guide on how to insert an internal condom the right way:

  1. open the packet and take out the condom very carefully with your fingers – make sure you don’t tear it
  2. try to relax and get into a comfortable position – imagine you’re
    putting a tampon in
    . You might find it easier to stand with one foot on a chair or the toilet, lie down on the bed, or squat
  3. hold the condom at the closed end – this thick, inner ring is the end that will be placed into your vagina if you’re having vaginal sex, which helps hold the condom in place
  4. squeeze the sides of the inner ring together with your thumb and forefinger – so it becomes longer and more narrow
  5. if you’re having vaginal sex, slide a finger inside the female condom and gently guide it into the vagina – slowly push it all the way back to your cervix. The condom will expand naturally inside you, but you probably won’t feel anything
  6. if you’re having anal sex – remove the inner ring from the condom and just push it gently into your anus with your finger, leaving the outer ring hanging out slightly
  7. make sure the outer ring at the open end of the condom covers the area around the entrance of your vagina or anus – this is how you know an internal condom has been put in correctly
  8. when you’re ready to have sex, hold the outer ring of the condom in place and guide the penis into the internal condom – this should stop it from sliding in between the condom and the side of your vagina or anus. If you feel this happen during sex, or if the outer ring of the condom is pushed into your vagina or anus, stop having sex straight away
  9. once you’ve finished having sex and before you stand up – gently twist the outer ring of the condom and pull it out. This should stop any sperm from leaking out
  10. throw the condom away in a bin – not in the toilet

Watch this how to insert a female condom video below to help you.

How effective are female condoms?

If you use it properly, a female condom is 95% effective at preventing pregnancy, and it can help protect you against STIs. Anyone can use them for anal sex too.

But most people who use them aren’t perfect, so in real life, internal condoms are about 79% effective — 21 out of 100 women who use them for birth control will get pregnant each year. Read on to find out how to make sure you use them properly.

Is a female condom a good option for you and your partner?

When it comes to sex and contraception, it’s important to talk to your sexual partner about what you both feel comfortable with.

Weighing up the pros and cons of using internal condoms can help you find out if you want to give them a go, or not, and come to a joint decision that you’re both happy with.

Female condoms may be right for you if…

  • you want to take more control of your sexual health – internal condoms may help you enjoy sex more if you’re not relying on your (male) sexual partner to bring contraception with them
  • you don’t want to kill the mood during sex – you can put internal condoms in up to 8 hours before sex or foreplay, which can allow the condom to warm up to body temperature, feel more natural and allow sex to be spontaneous. And if you want to make it part of the fun, your sexual partner could even insert the condom for you
  • you have vaginal sex and anal sex – internal condoms can be used for both forms of sex and help protect you against STIs, including
    HIV
    . But remember to use a new one if you’re switching from one type of sex to the other
  • you don’t want to use hormonal contraception methods – internal condoms are less likely to have side effects, unlike some other methods, and you don’t have to see a medical professional if you want to use them
  • you want to use them with other forms of contraception – female condoms can be used alongside hormonal contraception like the pill or the implant, which can act as double protection against unwanted pregnancy and also protect you against STIs
  • you have a latex allergy – most internal condoms are made from non-latex materials so they shouldn’t irritate your vagina
  • you want extra stimulation and pleasure – for some women, the external ring of a female condom may help stimulate the clitoris and vulva by rubbing gently against it during sex. The thicker inner ring may also feel good against the tip of a penis. In a study, 50% of women rated the sensation and comfort of a female condom as the same or better than a male condom, and 66% agreed it provided the same or better lubrication

Female condoms might not be right for you if…

  • you don't want to spend time practicing putting them in – in one study, 51% of women struggled to insert a female condom, but only 46% of these women had watched a how-to demonstration video. Getting the technique right can take time for some people, just like putting a tampon in, but it gets easier with practice. If you don’t put it in properly, it will be much less effective and increase your risk of getting pregnant, so it’s definitely worth practicing
  • you don’t like touching your vagina – to use an internal condom you’ll need to gently push it into your vagina, so if this makes you feel uncomfortable, there are other
    types of contraception
    you could try
  • it might make oral sex less enjoyable – if you put a female condom in before foreplay, the outer ring might make
    oral sex
    feel less pleasurable
  • you feel self-conscious about how it looks or sounds – some women don’t like how female condoms rest on the outside of their vulva, how they sound during sex, or worry their partner won’t like it. This might be something you can discuss with your partner before sex.
    Top tip: using lube might help reduce the crackling or popping noises an internal condom can make during sex
  • you’re stressed about things going wrong – sometimes an internal condom can come out if it’s not been inserted correctly, or if the penis slides in between the walls of the vagina or the anus and the condom. If this happens and you’re having vaginal sex, you may need to get
    emergency contraception
    . To take the worry out of sex, you could try using both an internal condom and a hormonal form of birth control, like the pill, for double protection
  • you prefer to have sex without condoms – sure, sex with a condom does feel different to sex without one, but remember that female condoms can feel more pleasurable and stimulate the clitoris, as well as helping you practise safe sex
    you find it more expensive – female condoms are often pricier to buy than other condoms, including male condoms

Where can I get female condoms?

Internal condoms are often harder to get hold of than external (or male) condoms, but don’t let this put you off.

If you live in the US, you might be able to pick up some internal condoms for free at health centres or family planning clinics. Or you can buy them in stores or online – they usually cost around $2 to $3 each, but they’re often sold in packs of 12. The only FDA-approved brand is the FC2.

If you live in the UK, you can buy them from pharmacies and supermarkets, or you could try getting some for free by going along to sexual health or contraception clinics, or asking at your local doctor’s surgery.

How to get the best protection from a female condom

Want to give female condoms a go and make them fun, while keeping yourself safe? Here’s what you need to know.

  • DO use an internal condom right at the start of having vaginal or anal sex – sperm and fluids can still get into your vagina or anus, even if your male partner hasn’t yet ejaculated
  • DO use an internal condom from start to finish, every time you have sex. If you need to take it out because it’s not been inserted correctly, or if it comes out, use a new condom each time
  • DO use lube to help prevent the condom from slipping and tearing, but stick to silicone or water-based lube – this can also help increase your pleasure
  • DON’T use oil-based lubricant with an internal condom – it makes the condom more likely to break during sex
  • DON’T use a male condom and a female condom together – this can cause tearing and it won’t give you any more protection. Stick to one condom at a time
  • DON’T use a condom that’s past its use-by date, if it has a hole in it, or if it looks damaged in any way
  • DON’T reuse an internal condom – they’re for one use only, so once you’re done put it straight in the bin

Can a female condom get lost?

Sometimes a female condom can get pushed into your vagina or anus during sex. Accidents happen! First things first, if a female condom slips inside you when you’re having vaginal sex, it’s a good idea to get

emergency contraception
.

You can try to find it yourself while you’re in the shower or lying down – take a few deep breaths to relax, reach inside your vagina with a clean finger and feel around for the condom.

It might be deep inside your vagina, but remember it can't get lost, so try not to panic if you don't feel it right away. Try putting one leg up on the toilet or squatting and bearing down (pushing your pelvic muscles, like you're trying to poop) to help you reach deeper inside your vagina.

If you feel the condom but can’t pull it out yourself, contact your doctor or local Planned Parenthood health center for help. If a female condom gets pushed inside your anus during sex, it’s best to get a doctor to retrieve it for you. Head to your doctor, gynecologist or the hospital emergency room.

Can female condoms cause UTIs?

While the evidence isn’t clear yet, some studies suggest that lubricated female and male condoms might increase the chances of you developing a

urinary tract infection (UTI)
. This is thought to be caused by a bacterial growth, especially if you also use spermicide when you have sex.

“Spermicides can kill off the good bacteria that live in your vagina, leading to growth of other bacteria. If these find their way to your pee hole they can cause a UTI,” says doctor and Healthily expert Dr Adiele Hoffman. “It’s also thought that spermicides allow bacteria that cause UTIs to stick to your pee hole more easily and cause infection.

“If you notice you’re getting UTI symptoms after using a lubricated condom, or spermicide, try to use a water-based lubricant instead of an oil-based one, and limit your use of spermicide where you can. If you have UTI symptoms, speak to your doctor or a pharmacist, who can help treat you. And if want to find out what other contraception options are available, your doctor or a sexual health clinic can help with this too.”

Important: Our website provides useful information but is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor when making decisions about your health.