The first female condom (Femidom®) was introduced in 1992. It is made of a soft plastic material. It fits into the vagina and lines the inside walls.
The female condom is an effective method of contraception if used correctly. It also helps to protect against sexually transmitted infections.
What is the female condom?
The first female condom (Femidom®) was introduced in 1992. It is made of a soft plastic material. It fits into the vagina and lines the inside walls. It therefore forms a barrier between the man's sperm and the woman's womb.
By Ceridwen (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons
How effective is the female condom?
When no contraception is used more than 80 out of 100 sexually active women become pregnant within one year.
About 5 women in 100 will become pregnant each year, if female condoms are used perfectly for contraception. In comparison about 2 women in 100 will become pregnant each year if male condoms are used perfectly for contraception.
Nearer to 21 women in 100 will become pregnant with normal (not perfect) usage.
Correct use means using the condom every time you have sex. It is very important to avoid any contact between the penis and the vaginal area before the condom is inserted.
How do I use a female condom?
You should read the instructions that come with the packet. The following is a general guide:
- Check the condom is within its 'use by' date.
- Use each condom only once.
- Insert the closed end of the condom into the vagina. Do this by holding the inner ring between your finger and thumb and placing it as far in the vagina as possible. Then put one or two fingers inside the condom, up to the inner ring. Then push it in the vagina as far as it will go. The outer ring should then lie against the outside of the vagina.
- Unlike the male condom, it is loose-fitting and will move during sex. If the outer ring gets pushed inside the vagina then stop and put it back in the right place.
- Make sure the penis enters the condom during sex and does not go between the condom and the wall of the vagina.
- After sex, a slight twist and pull will remove the condom. Take care not to spill any semen on to the vagina. Don't flush it down the toilet. Wrap it up and put it in a bin.
Note: DO NOT use a male and female condom at the same time. This is more likely to result in slippage or splitting of one or both condoms. This increases your risk of getting pregnant or getting a sexually transmitted infection.
What are the advantages of the female condom?
- It is safe for anybody to use a female condom and there are no side-effects or risks.
- It is easy to obtain and to use.
- It helps to protect against sexually transmitted infections.
- It may help to protect against cancer of the neck of the womb (cervix).
- It is less likely to split than the male condom.
What are the disadvantages of the female condom?
- It is more expensive than the male condom to buy. Female condoms are cheaper if bought in a multi-pack or online, but cost around £1-£2 each. However, both types of condom are available for free at family planning clinics in the UK.
- The outer ring may be pushed into the vagina during sex. It then becomes less effective.
- Some people feel that condoms can interfere with sensation during sex.
Common errors when using a female condom
- The penis may leak sperm before the man 'comes' (ejaculates). If there is any contact with the vaginal area before the condom is inserted, the woman may become pregnant.
- The penis may go between the condom and the wall of the vagina. If the man ejaculates whilst the penis is there, the woman may become pregnant.
- If you have already had sex, there may be sperm still on the man's penis. If there is any contact with the vagina before a new condom is inserted, the woman may become pregnant.
- Damage to the condom may cause the condom to split - for example, when handled by women with sharp fingernails.
Note: if any of the above happen then you should obtain emergency contraception within 72 hours. It is more effective the sooner it is taken after sexual intercourse.
Further reading and references
Barrier methods for contraception and STI prevention; Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare (August 2012 - updated October 2015)
Contraception - barrier methods and spermicides; NICE CKS, April 2016 (UK access only)
Beksinska M, Greener R, Kleinschmidt I, et al; A randomized noninferiority crossover controlled trial of the functional performance and safety of new female condoms: an evaluation of the Velvet, Cupid2, and FC2. Contraception. 2015 Sep92(3):261-7. doi: 10.1016/j.contraception.2015.05.008. Epub 2015 May 20.
Trussell J; Contraceptive failure in the United States, Contraception, 2011