Female Condoms

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Dear Dr. Myrtle,

What can you tell me about the female condom?


Structural Details of the Female Condom

The female condom is made up of a long polyurethane sheath that lines the walls of the vagina and is anchored at each end by flexible polyurethane rings. The ring at the closed end rests over the cervix (like a diaphragm or cervical cap would). The outer ring rests outside the body, against the labia - if anatomy permits, it may rub nicely against the clitoris and may promote arousal for the woman wearing the condom.

The female condom is made of polyurethane, not latex, so people who are sensitive to latex can use them comfortably and safely. The female condom is longer than most latex condoms for men.

Heat and sensation are nicely transmitted through the soft, thin polyurethane lining. We have had customers rave about how well they can "feel" their partners.

The female condom is used once with penetrative vaginal sex, and then disposed of. It can also be used for penetrative anal sex; however, the person doing the penetrating needs to keep an eye on the outer ring to ensure that it does not get pushed inside the wearer.

Although the female condom comes prelubricated, it is wise to add more lubrication to the penis and to the inside of the condom to reduce breakage. The female condom does not contain spermicide.

The U.S. FDA (Food and Drug Administration) approved the first condom for women - called "Reality" in the U.S. and "Femidom" elsewhere - in 1993.

Health Issues and the Female Condom

Used consistently and correctly, it has a contraceptive failure rate of 5 percent, which means that using the female condom can prevent pregnancy 95 percent of the times that you use it.

Available over-the-counter, this product technically puts the contraceptive and preventative benefits of the barrier technology into a woman’s hands. (We say "technically" because some women may initially experience resistance from their partners, which may take negotiation skills to overcome.)

It can be inserted up to eight hours before intercourse, and unlike the male condom, can be inserted, used, and removed regardless of how erect the penis is.

The female condom gives more protection against sexually transmitted infections (including HIV) than any other contraceptive technology available, except for the male condom. It gives better STI protection than the Pill, contraceptive implants, the "shot" (Depo-Provera), the IUD, diaphragms, or a cervical cap.

Techniques for use of the female condom

As with any new technology, learning to use this condom takes a little practice. If you are using the condom for vaginal penetration, squeeze the inner ring and insert it into the vagina just past the pubic bone so it covers your cervix. Check with your finger to ensure the sheath isn’t twisted. Note that the outer ring stays outside the vaginal opening. (users report that this is not irritating or uncomfortable, and often adds clitoral stimulation during intercourse.) There is some aiming involved to make sure that the penis is inside the outer ring/sheath. Some people like to squeeze more lubricant into the sheath during use. When you’re ready to remove it, just twist the outer ring (to keep secretions/semen inside) and gently tug out. No mess, no fuss.

If you are using the condom for anal penetration, remove the inner cervical ring. You can insert it directly into the anus perhaps over your fingers, or you can put the condom over the penis and gently slide the condom in. There is the same concern regarding the aim (to make sure the penis is inside the sheath), as well as the additional possibility of pushing the condom in too far (since there’s no cervix to stop it). The person doing the penetrating needs to monitor the outer ring to make sure it does not slowly move in.

Women who do not have a cervix (due to hysterectomy) can also use the female condom for vaginal intercourse. You’ll want to remove the inner ring, insert it into the vagina as described above, and have the person doing the penetrating monitor the outer ring to make sure it doesn’t slip inside. Take special care to have good "aim", making sure the penis stays inside the sheath at all times.

We have been amazed at the success of the female condom. Women love the female condom. Men love the female condom. Some couples take turns: he wears one this time, she wears one the next. Men say it’s a nice change to have someone else get the condom on.

For female-condom-devotees, the increased warmth, sensation, and fit make the expense worth the price.

Dr. Myrtle