What Is The Female Condom?
The female condom (FC), like the male condom, is a barrier method of contraception. When worn during sex, the female condom lines the entire interior of the vagina, preventing semen from entering the uterus and fertilizing an egg. By shielding the walls of the vagina or anus from semen and other bodily fluids the female condom also helps to prevent sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
The Two Main Types of Female Condoms
The original female condom was made of a thin polyurethane sheath and included brand names such as Reality, Femy, and Femidom. Due to the high cost of polyurethane production, makers of the FC released the second iteration of the condom—the FC2—in 2007. Production of the original female condom has now stopped.
The current FC2 is the first and only FDA approved contraceptive that gives women the ability to prevent both unintended pregnancies and the spread of STIs. Unlike the male condom or the original FC, the FC2 is composed of a nitrile sheath or pouch that measures 6.9 inches (17.5 cm) in length, 2.9 inches (7.3 cm) in width, and 1.8 inches (14.6 cm) in diameter. At each end of the condom is a flexible ring. The ring that is inserted into the vagina helps seat the base of the condom near the cervix during intercourse; the ring at the opposite end of the condom stays outside the vaginal entrance. The outer ring serves as a guide during penetration and stops the sheath from being pushed into the vagina. The interior of the condom contains a silicone-based lubricant, but additional lubricant can be used if necessary. Unlike other types of barrier methods for female contraceptive purposes, the FC2 does not contain any spermicidal gel.
How Effective is the FC2?
According to the United States National Library of Medicine, the female condom is about 75%-82% effective in preventing pregnancy with typical use. Typical use reflects how a method of birth control is used in the real world when including human error. By contrast, perfect use reflects what happens when a method of contraception is used correctly all of the time. With perfect use, the efficacy of the female condom rises to 95%. Like male condoms, female condoms may fail for the following reasons:
- The condom can rips or tears before or during intercourse.
- The condom is not worn before the penis touches the vagina.
- A new condom is not used for each sexual encounter.
- The condom has manufacturing defects. This is very rare.
- Semen spills from the condom during removal.
The FC2 significantly reduces the risk of many sexually transmitted infections. Even if a woman wears a female condom during only half of her sexual encounters, it reduces her risk of exposure to HIV by 46%.
Other Types of Female Condoms
In recent years, new and progressive beliefs regarding contraception have initiated the development of new models of female condoms. These new models were created with the notion that a greater variety of contraception for women would give rise to more consistent use of FCs and thus minimize unplanned pregnancies and the transmission of most STIs.
A recent study has that illustrated the new models of female condoms have certain benefits compared to the established FC2 condom.
- The VA w.o.w Condom Feminine is a shorter version of the FC2 that measures 3.5 inches (9 cm) in length and is made of latex. The VA has a rounded triangular shape at the external end of the condom and a sponge at the internal end. The sponge helps secure the condom inside the vagina. Like the FC2, the VA is lubricated and also does not contain spermicide. Only water-based lubricants should be used with the VA condom as oil-based lubricants can deteriorate latex. The VA condom has not been FDA approved but has been CE (European Commission) approved for European distribution. It is currently being evaluated by the World Health Organization (WHO) to assess its effectiveness and safety.
- The PATH’s Woman’s Condom is structurally similar to the VA but is supported by a dissolving rounded cap. This feature facilitates the condom’s insertion into the vagina. PATH’s Woman’s Condom is currently being researched and evaluated by a US study to determine its effectiveness in preventing pregnancy. If the results are positive, this type of FC will become eligible for approval by the FDA, WHO, and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). If it receives approval from these institutions, it will then become available for purchase by consumers.
- The Cupid condom is another variation of the female condom that has been approved by WHO and UNFPA. It is currently sold in South Africa, Mozambique, Indonesia, India, and various other nations.
- The Natural Sensation Panty Condom is a female condom built into a reusable cotton and nylon undergarment. This type of female condom contains a replaceable panty liner made of thin synthetic resin that stretches similarly to a male condom. This product has not yet received FDA or WHO approval but is available for purchase in parts of South America and Europe.
- Similar to the Natural Sensation Panty Condom, the Silk Parasol Female Panty Condom is designed to be worn as an undergarment. The shape of the Silk Parasol Female Panty Condom provides functionality as a physical external and internal barrier during sex. It is composed of biodegradable silk and is reusable with the purchase of refill condoms. Clinical trials of this product will begin in the near future.
A recent survey ranked these types of female condoms in relation to the FC2 on several criteria. The results are listed in order from highest to lowest score:
- Perfect Failure Rate: VA w.o.w (2.5%), FC2 (2.9%), PATH Woman’s (3.1%), Cupid condom (3.9%)
- Feel and Sensation: PATH Woman’s, Cupid condom, VA w.o.w, FC2
- Ease of Insertion: FC2, PATH Woman’s, Cupid condom, VA w.o.w
- Appearance: All models were scored positively by 80% of the surveyed women
How To Use
Everyone can learn to use female condoms safely and easily. As it happens, almost any woman who can use a tampon can use an FC. With a bit of practice, females can learn to insert condoms very easily. Instructions for inserting the FC2 female condom are listed below.
- Remove tampons before inserting the condom.
- Open the condom wrapper very carefully by tearing the notch at the top right corner. Do not use scissors or a knife in case of for risk of an accidental puncture.
- Chooses a comfortable position for insertion. You may want to squat, raise one leg, sit on a chair or stool, or lie down.
- Make sure the condom is well lubricated on the outside.
- The outer ring at the open end of the sheath is used to cover the vulva. Make sure the inner ring is situated at the end of the condom.
- Hold the sheath by the inner ring; the open end should be hanging down.
- Squeeze the inner ring with the thumb and middle fingers, so it becomes long and narrow.
- Gently insert the inner ring into the vagina (so you feel the inner ring move into position near the cervix).
- Put your index finger on a side of the condom and push the inner ring into the vagina as far as it will go.
- Check that the sheath is inserted straight and not twisted. The outer ring should remain outside the vagina.
- The female condom is now in place and ready for use.
Instructions for inserting the VA w.o.w female condom are listed below.
- Remove tampons before inserting the condom.
- Hold the sponge that is located at the internal end of the condom.
- Pinch the closed end (the internal end) and place it into the vagina.
- Use two fingers to push the condom into the vagina, as far as it will go.
- Check to make sure that the sponge is open and flat after it has been inserted.
- The frame should remain outside the vagina. Check to make sure that it is flush against the vulva.
- Additional lubricant may be used, but do not use any that are oil or petroleum-based! Oil and petroleum-based substances, such as Vaseline, degrade latex.
Removing the Female Condom
In order to remove the female condom, squeeze and twist the outer ring while gently pulling out the condom. Wrap it in the original wrapper or a tissue, and dispose of the condom in the trash. Do not flush down the toilet because it may cause clogging and will have to be retrieved by hand.
General Usage Information and Helpful Tips
If you wish to use a female condom for anal sex, follow the same instructions for insertion. Some might think that using a male condom and a female condom simultaneously will double protection. This assumption is NOT TRUE. The friction between the two condoms will make them both more likely to tear.
The penis should be guided into the female condom to prevent the penis from entering the vagina, outside the condom. Do not worry if the condom moves from side to side. If the penis slips out of the condom into the vagina, withdraw immediately and insert it again into the condom. The addition of extra lubricant can help decrease the frequency of this occurrence.
If there is an accidental ejaculation outside the condom into the vagina, consider emergency contraception. Also, consider emergency contraception if the condom is torn or punctured upon removal.
Use each condom only once. The World Health Organization recommends using a new condom for each sexual encounter. Likewise, the FDA states that the FC1 and FC2 are designed and intended only for a single-use.
What are the benefits of using a female condom?
Female condoms are a safe, convenient, and effective alternative to other methods of birth control. Women, men, and transgendered persons like the FC for a plethora of reasons.
- Female condoms provide women the opportunity to share the responsibility of contraception with their partners.
- Females can use the condom and protect themselves from risk if their partners refuse to use contraception.
- It stays in place whether or not a male partner maintains his erection.
- The female condom protects pregnancy and most STIs if used correctly. In fact, compared to other barrier methods, FCs provide better protection against the transmission of skin-to-skin STIs like herpes (HSV) and human papillomavirus (HPV) because they cover more of the labia than other forms of barrier methods.
- The condom can be inserted prior to sex so as not to disturb foreplay; it can also be inserted during sex as part of foreplay.
- The external ring can stimulate the clitoris during intercourse and enhance pleasure.
- Female condoms do not affect a woman’s natural hormones.
- No prescription is required to obtain one.
There are also other benefits that are specific to the FC2.
- The nitrile construction allows it to be used by people who are allergic to latex.
- It can be used with both oil and water-based lubricants.
- It does not require special storage requirements because nitrile is not susceptible to degradation by variations of temperature or dampness.
- Nitrile is a good conductor of heat, so sensation during intercourse is well-maintained.
What are the disadvantages of using a female condom?
As with any other type of contraception, there are some disadvantages to FCs.
- The outer ring or frame is visible outside the vagina and can make some women self-conscious.
- The female condom may squeak or make noise during intercourse.
- Some find the female condom difficult to insert or remove.
- It has a higher failure rate than other non-barrier methods of contraception, such as the birth control pill. This is because it can tear or because the penis can be inserted outside the condom during sex.
- In some countries, the female condom may be in limited supply and cost more than the comparable male condom.
- The sensation during intercourse may be reduced.
- The condom may potentially slip into the vagina or anus during intercourse.
- The female condom is not as effective as the male condom because the penis can be inserted outside the condom during sex.
Worldwide Use and Availability
Since the introduction of the FC2 in 2007, the availability and distribution of FCs has steadily increased over the past years. Only two years after its re-release, female condom distribution and sales doubled to a total of 40 million units. Many of these condoms were purchased by humanitarian agencies, such as USAID and UNFPA, to help combat the spread of HIV/AIDS epidemics in developing countries. With the help of these organizations, manufacturers hope to soon be distributing 200 million FCs per year. In total, the FC2 female condom has been distributed by donor groups and health organizations to roughly 100 nations worldwide. Although their marketing efforts are directed primarily to consumers in the United States, FC2 manufacturers have sales distribution agreements in Canada, Mexico, Spain, India, and Brazil.
FC2 condoms are slightly more expensive than male condoms because of their nitrile construction. In the United States and online a single condom costs $2 to $4 while boxes of three generally range from $5 to $7.
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Last Updated: 21 May 2014.