The female condom is a strong, soft sheath that is inserted into the vagina before sexual intercourse. It is pouch-shaped and about the same length as the male condom, but wider. The female condom has two plastic rings: a loose ring at the closed end that helps to insert the condom and that keeps it in place during sex, and a larger ring at the open end, which remains outside the vagina and spreads over the woman’s external genitalia.
Although the female condom is made of polyurethane plastic (not latex), it requires no special storage. It can be inserted quite a while before having sex, it does not require immediate withdrawal after ejaculation and it can be used with both oil-based and water-based lubricants.
Because the external ring is usually visible during sex, a woman cannot easily use a female condom without her partner knowing about it, but women do have more control over use of this method than they do over the use of a male condom. Because it can be inserted hours before sexual intercourse, it can provide protection in situations where consumption of alcohol or drugs may reduce the chances that a male condom will be used. The female condom also provides protection during menstruation.
The female condom provides extra protection to men and woman because it covers both the entrance to the vagina and the base of the penis, both of which are areas where STD sores make it easy for HIV to enter.
How to use the female condom
The following instructions should be presented on how to insert the female condom:
- Before using the female condom, rub it between your fingers in order to spread the lubrication evenly around.
- Twist the inner ring into a figure-8 shape and hold between your fingers, or just squeeze the inner ring.
- The vagina must be relaxed when you insert the condom. Squat or sit with your knees apart, or stand with one leg raised.
- Push the inner ring into your vagina with your fingers (use the same insertion method you use to insert a tampon), and be careful to ensure that your fingernails or jewellery do not damage the polyurethane.
- Put your index finger in the condom and gently push the inner ring up into the vagina as far as it will go. The condom should fit snugly against the cervix (behind the pubic bone). It is in the right place if you don’t feel it.
- The outer ring should hang outside the vagina, and it should not be twisted.
- During intercourse it is necessary to guide the penis into the condom and to check that the penis has not entered the vagina outside the condom wall. Make sure that the condom is not pushed into the vagina by the penis.
- If there is a problem (e.g. if the condom rips or tears, if the outer ring is pushed inside or if the condom bundles up inside the vagina), remove the condom and insert a new one.
- Don’t ever use a male condom at the same time as the female condom because the friction between them will move both condoms out of their proper positions. Remove the condom after male ejaculation by squeezing and twisting the outer ring and gently pulling the condom out of the vagina. Remove the condom before standing up.
- Wrap the condom in tissue paper and dispose of it in a rubbish bin and not in the toilet.
Use more lubrication if the penis does not move freely in and out, if the outer ring is pushed inside, if there is noise during sex, if you feel the condom when it is in place, and if it comes out of the vagina during sex.
Although the female condom is not meant to replace the male condom, it increases the options available in the fight against HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.
According to a Thai study among sex workers in brothels, the women experienced a 34% decrease in the number of new sexually transmitted infections in cases where a female condom was provided as an extra option to the male condom. The same study also found that sex workers who had access to both the female and the male condom were less likely to have unprotected sex than women who had access only to male condoms.