Female Condoms

By OBOS Birth Control Contributors | May 3, 2012
Image courtesy of The Female Health Company

Image courtesy of The Female Health Company

A female condom is a pouch that is inserted into the vagina before intercourse to prevent pregnancy and reduce the risk of sexually transmitted infections. In the United States today there is only one brand of female condom, the FC2.

The FC2 is a thin sheath made of nitrile polymer with a soft ring at each end. One ring, covered with polyurethane, fits over the cervix and rests behind the pubic bone, acting as an anchor. The larger, open outer ring covers part of the perineum and labia.

Like male condoms, FC2 is available over the counter, without a prescription. Because it is not made of latex, it will not deteriorate when used with oil-based lubricants. It can be inserted before intercourse but should be removed immediately after. The FC2 is pre-lubricated with a silicone-based lubricant and does not contain spermicide. It does not require precise placement over the cervix. Male and female condoms should not be used at the same time, because the added friction between the two condoms could cause them to break. Like the male condom, the FC2 female condom is intended for onetime use.

Effectiveness

FC2 is 95 percent effective in preventing pregnancy when used consistently and correctly. With typical use, it is 79 percent effective.

STI Protection

Although the research on female condoms is not as extensive as that on male condoms, consistent and correct use of the female condom appears to provide a level of protection against STIs, including HIV, similar to that of the male condom.

Advantages

  • Does not require advance planning, clinic visits, or a prescription.
  • Provides protection against STIs, including HIV.
  • You don’t have to rely on a man to use a condom.
  • Provides broader coverage than the male condom, covering the labia, the perineal region, and the base of the penis; this may decrease the chance of passing the viruses that cause genital warts and herpes.
  • The outer ring may stimulate the clitoris and make intercourse more enjoyable.
  • May help you know your body better.
  • No systemic side effects.
  • Does not affect menstrual cycles.

Disadvantages

  • Not as effective in preventing pregnancy as hormonal methods or a male condom.
  • Costs somewhat more than a male condom and may not be as readily available.
  • Requires a brief pause to put on.
  • Can take practice before insertion becomes easy.
  • Some women find that the rings cause discomfort.

How to Use

FC2 use can be fun for both partners when it is made part of sex. Discuss condom use before you have sex. Insert FC2 before you have any genital contact.

  1. Carefully open the packet and find the inner (smaller) ring, which is at the closed end of the condom. Squeeze the inner ring together and push it up into your vagina with your finger. The outer ring stays outside the vagina.
  2. When your partners penis is hard, you will need to guide the penis through the outer ring, to make sure that the outer ring is not pushed to the side of the vagina. If you find that the outer ring is being pulled into your vagina during intercourse, add extra lubrication inside the condom or to the penis. You can use any kind of lubricant, water- or oil-based, with the FC2.
  3. After sex, remove the female condom (if you are lying down, do this before you stand up). Squeeze and twist the outer ring to keep the mans sperm inside the pouch. The condom should come out easily when you pull. After removing the condom, dispose of it in the trash; do not flush it down the toilet.

Where to Get the FC2 Female Condom

You can purchase FC2 female condoms at some retail drugstores, including CVS and Walgreens, HIV/AIDS outreach clinics, family-planning clinics, and sex shops, and on some college campuses. You can also buy them online, including at Amazon.com. A pack of five condoms costs about $12.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Does the FC2 come in different sizes? Does it have to be fitted? No, the FC2 does not need to be fitted. It comes in one size that is designed to fit most women.
  • Can the FC2 be used with male condoms? No. The FC2 should not be used at the same time as male condoms, because the added friction between the two condoms could cause them to fail.
  • Is the FC2 as effective as male condoms? The FC2 has efficacy similar to male condoms and other barrier methods.
  • Can spermicides or lubricants be used with the FC2? Yes. It is perfectly safe and effective to use the FC2 with spermicides and all types of lubricants (oil-, silicone-, or water-based).