6 Things You Never Knew About Female Condoms

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When it comes to protecting yourself from STIs and unplanned pregnancies, condoms are pretty standard. A lot of us can remember that “condom on a banana” demo that we got in high school sex ed, even if we giggled through the whole thing. Plenty of us even had access to free external condoms in school or in local clinics, like Planned Parenthood. And if you’ve had intercourse, chances are pretty good you’ve used one yourself. But how many of you have ever used a female condom? I’m going to guess “not many.”

“Male condoms have merely become the gold standard,” Rachel Gelman, DPT, tells Bustle. “Probably due to marketing, things like Trojan Man made the male condom more mainstream. Also, a male condom is more compact and discreet compared to the female condoms I have seen.”

While these condoms are commonly known as “female condoms,” I'm going to use “internal condoms” from here on out because it’s more accurate — and it’s gender neutral. Internal condoms are one of the many options out there for people who are looking to have safer sex, but they’re not talked about much. So as a certified sex educator, I'm going to fill in the blanks and answer any questions you might have about internal condoms!

1Here's What The Internal Condom Is Made Of

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While external (or “male”) condoms are made from latex, internal condoms are made from either polyurethane (which is a plastic) or nitrile (which is a synthetic rubber). That means they’re a great option for anyone who has a latex allergy, but still wants protection from STIs and pregnancy. The nitrile internal condoms are a newer design, but users report that they heat up nicely with the person’s body temperature.

Internal condoms also have a ring on either side, one of which goes inside the vaginal canal or the anus, the other of which hangs on the outside of the body.

2Are They As Effective As External Condoms?

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With perfect use, the internal condom is 95 percent effective at preventing pregnancy. With typical use — because almost no one uses any form of birth control exactly right, every 100 percent of the time — it’s 79 percent effective at preventing pregnancy. In comparison, the external condom is effective 98 percent of the time with perfect use, 82 percent with typical use.

So, the short answer is: Almost. Internal condoms are not as effective as external condoms — but they’re pretty close.

3How Do You Insert An Internal Condom?

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Internal condoms are commonly called “female condoms” because they were originally designed to be worn inside the vagina. However, some people also use them for anal sex, even though that’s considered “off label” usage.

Inserting an internal condom into a vagina is a bit more involved than putting an external condom on a penis. (However, it is important to note that there’s a lot more education around how to put on external condoms than there is on how to use internal condoms. It’s not necessarily intuitive — we all had to be taught, at some point.) According to Planned Parenthood, “[i]f you can use a tampon, you can probably use a female condom.”

First, while internal condoms come with lube, you can totally add more lube — or spermicide — if you want. Then you’re going to need to figure out what position works best for you for insertion. Planned Parenthood suggests trying out squatting, standing with one foot on a chair, or lying down. Once you’ve picked a position, squeeze together the ring on the closed side of the condom and insert it into your vagina. Use your index finger to make sure that it’s all the way back to the end of your vaginal canal, covering your cervix, and that it’s not twisted around at all. Finally, make sure that about an inch of the condom is hanging on the outside of your body, including the second ring.

If you’re using an internal condom for anal sex, you’re going to follow the same procedure — just in your butt instead of your vagina. And, obviously, you don’t have to worry about covering your cervix.

4Why Would You Want To Use One?

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Probably the number one reason someone might want to use an internal condom is because they have a latex allergy and external condoms aren’t an option. Other reasons include wanting more protection from a skin-to-skin STI, like herpes, or having a partner (or being a person) who doesn’t fit in external condoms. Also? Some folks just prefer them.

5Here's Where Can You Get An Internal Condom

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Internal condoms are available pretty much anywhere (except maybe corner stores) you can find external condoms. You don’t need a prescription, so you can buy them at the drug store, ask your health care provider about them, or pick them up at your local Planned Parenthood. You can also buy them online, if you’re feeling a little shy about doing it IRL.

6How Much They Cost

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Internal condoms cost about the same external condoms — about six dollars for a three pack if you pay for them out of pocket. However, if you have insurance and have time for a doctor’s appointment, you can get a prescription for them and pay nothing out of pocket. One takes a little more money; one takes a little more time. It’s up to you to decide which one is more valuable to you.

Internal condoms are not as popular as external condoms, but I’m a firm believer that an informed sex life is the best sex life. Hopefully this information about a less common form of birth control and STI protection has helped you become better informed about your options — and maybe even sparked some interest.