The female condom is similar to the male condom. It is a thin piece of material (typically a type of latex-free rubber or plastic) shaped like a sleeve, that blocks sperm from entering the cervix and uterus, and protects against sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
This article is part of our Contraception Series!
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Note: the information below was sourced from references (1-5), unless stated otherwise.
What is it?
The female condom is similar to the male condom. It is a thin piece of material (typically a type of latex-free rubber or plastic) shaped like a sleeve, that blocks sperm from entering the cervix and uterus, and protects against sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). The female condom is also known as the “inside condom”, and anyone with a vagina can use it. It can also be used for anal sex, though the description below applies to use in the vagina. The inside condom is designed to be used only once and has to be used every time you have penetrative sex.
Condoms are individually packaged, and you need to use a new one every time you have sex (and in some cases, at different points during sex. You can read more about this below). Inside condoms are often harder to find than outside condoms (6), and may also be more expensive depending on your location. They’re often available in drug stores, sex stores, and pharmacies. If you can’t get female condoms in these places in your area, try a women’s health or sexual health clinic.
An advantage of inside condoms is that the woman or person with vagina is in control over the protection. Another advantage is that, because the condom is not as tight on the penis, the person with the penis might experience more sensation during sex – however, others find that an inside condom actually decreases sensation (6). You can only find out what applies to you by trying it yourself.
A disadvantage is that female condoms are often much more expensive than male condoms, and that they’re often harder to find.
How does it work?
The female condom, like the male condom, protects against pregnancy and STDs by providing a physical barrier that sperm cells and germs cannot cross. The condom should be applied before you start any contact with the vagina using the penis, and you should only use one at the same time. Never apply two condoms on top of each other, because the friction between the condoms can cause tears in the condoms. Don’t combine a female and male condom either, for the same reason.
If you’re using condoms from a brand that’s new to you, always check the instructions on the packaging first. Also make sure to check the expiration date listed on the packaging before use! Disposable birth control can degrade over time, increasing the risk of pregnancy.
How do I use a female condom?
Note: the following description applies to use of the inside condom in the vagina only. For instructions that apply to use in the anus, consult the packaging of the condom or your local sexual health clinic! To use the condom, open the packet carefully with your fingers (never your teeth, a knife, or scissors, because this can cause a tear in the condom). The condom has two rings. One of the rings is thicker and has a closed end. This is the inner ring and it goes inside the vagina, over the cervix. The other ring is thinner and has an open end. This ring stays outside the vagina and helps keep the condom in place by settling against the area of skin outside the vagina.
To insert the thicker ring, you have to squeeze the sides of the ring together using your fingers, and then push it up inside the vagina until it won’t go further. Once the thicker ring is inside, you can insert your fingers into the condom to push the ring up if needed. If you’ve ever inserted a menstrual cup or tampon, you’ll find that it’s similar. If you have inserted the condom correctly, you’ll have created a blind-ended pouch inside the vagina that a penis can enter safely.
If you want, you can insert a female condom up to eight hours before you’re expecting to have sex (6). Do check that it’s still in place right before you start. Depending on the fit of the condom, you might have to hold the outer ring in place during sex.
When you’re done having sex, you can remove the condom by twisting the outer ring and pulling the condom out of the vagina. Check the condom for any leaks or holes. Contact a medical professional if you do find leaks or holes. Throw the condom away with general waste, don’t flush it down the toilet.
Sometimes, you have to throw away a condom and use a new one while you’re still in the middle of sex. You should do this when you find holes or tears in the condom during application or when the person with the penis has ejaculated and you want to continue having sex.
How effective is it?
The female condom is slightly less effective than the male condom. With perfect use, it’s about 95% effective. This means out of 100 people* using the condom, 5 will get pregnant within a year (compared to 2 for the male condom). With typical use, this decreases to 79% effective, meaning 21 people* out of 100 will become pregnant within a year (compared to 18 for the male condom).
To keep your risk of pregnancy and disease down, it’s important to apply the condom before you start vaginal penetration. This includes being careful not to get the contents of a used condom inside the vagina. This can happen if the condom was not inserted correctly, if the penis slips inside the vagina outside of the condom (which means the penis has entered the vagina outside the outer ring), or if you use your fingers to touch or penetrate the vagina after you’ve removed the condom. Pre-ejaculate (the moisture released from the penis during arousal, also known as “pre-cum”) can also contain sperm cells from previous recent ejaculations. Keep this in mind!
What are possible side-effects?
There are no known side-effects of the inside condom.
When can't I use it?
When you don’t know how to correctly apply a condom. Carefully read the instructions on the box or on the insert before you have sex. Additionally, most condoms can’t be used in combination with an oil-based lubrication, because this damages the condom’s material. Choose a water-based lubrication instead.
Does it work immediately?
Yes. When applied, a condom protects immediately. Check for holes and tears during application and after removal of the condom.
What happens to my fertility if I stop using it?
Since nothing happens in your body when using this method, nothing’s different when you stop using this method. You have a higher risk of pregnancy if you’re having unprotected sex compared to when you’re using contraception.
Does it protect against sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)?
Yes. When used correctly, a condom protects against STDs, including HIV. Exceptions are genital warts and pubic lice. If you have genital warts on an area that a condom doesn’t cover (for example, the base of the penis, the pubic area, the vulva, or the scrotum [the ball sack]), you can still give your sex partner genital warts. Lice are always in the pubic hair, which typically isn’t covered by a condom. Moreover, while condoms do decrease the risk of HPV transmission, they can’t reduce the risk to zero because HPV can be transmitted through skin-to-skin contact (between areas a condom doesn’t cover).
Lastly, the inside condom, when inserted in the vagina, only protects against STDs when you’re having vaginal sex. It doesn’t protect if you have anal or oral sex in this case. Of course, if you insert an inside condom in the anus, you’re also protected against disease when you’re having anal sex.
*People, here, means anyone who is able to become pregnant, including girls, women, and non-binary people and transgender men who still have their uterus, vagina, and ovaries.
Are you curious about other methods to protect yourself from an unwanted pregnancy? Read about other birth control options here!
This article is pending medical review.
Written by Juliëtte Gossens
Reviewed by Sophie Oppelt and Selina Voßen
Edited by Juliëtte Gossens
McFarlane I (ed.). Seeing the unseen: The case for action in the neglected crisis of unintended pregnancy. United Nations Population Fund. 2022. Available from: https://www.unfpa.org/sites/default/files/pub-pdf/EN_SWP22%20report_0.pdf
Hacker NF, Gambone JC, Hobel CJ (eds.). Hacker & Moore’s Essentials of Obstetrics & Gynecology. 6th ed. Philadelphia: Elsevier; 2016.
Hoffman BL, Schorge JO, Halvorson LM, Hamid CA, Corton MM, Schaffer JI (eds.). William’s Gynecology. 4th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill Education; 2020.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The United States Medical Eligibility Criteria for Contraceptive Use, 2016 (US MEC). Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/contraception/mmwr/mec/summary.html
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2016 U.S. Selected Practice Recommendations for Contraceptive Use (U.S. SPR). Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/contraception/mmwr/spr/summary.html
Masvawure TB, Mantell JE, Mabude Z, Ngoloyi C, Milford C, Beksinska M et al. “It’s a Different Condom, Let’s See How It Works”: Young Men’s Reactions to and Experiences of Female Condom Use During an Intervention Trial in South Africa. Journal of sex research. 2014;51(8):841-851. DOI: 10.1080/00224499.2013.814043
Please note: the information we provide to you here is for educational purposes only. If you’re experiencing any discomfort or have any complaints or questions about your health, please contact your doctor or other relevant health professional. We don’t provide medical advice.