Female condoms are a type of contraception made of latex or synthetic latex used by women to prevent pregnancy. Lots of people may not have heard of female condoms before, or are more familiar with male condoms. To find out more about female condoms, and to discover if they are the right contraception for you, keep reading.
How female condoms work
Confusion about female condoms is one reason why they might not be so well known. If you’ve ever wondered ‘How does a female condom work?’, don’t worry. Female condoms are a barrier method of contraception, which means they act as a physical barricade preventing sperm from entering the womb. This then stops the fertilisation of eggs and prevents pregnancy.
As a form of barrier contraception, female condoms also protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs) by preventing the exchange of bodily fluids and reducing skin to skin contact. To protect against both pregnancy and STIs, a female condom must be put on before sex to ensure no sperm enters the vagina.
How to use a female condom
Using a female condom is simple. The key thing to remember is to be careful not to damage or tear the condom in any way. If damage does occur, throw the condom away and use a new one.
A female condom has two rings in it for ease of use: a smaller one at the closed end and a larger one at the open end. To insert the condom, squeeze the smaller ring and place it inside the vagina. The larger ring should cover the opening of the vagina.
Female condoms are lubricated for ease of use, but you may wish to use additional lubricants. Always check the packaging to find out which lubricants can be used with your female condom, as some chemicals can damage the latex or synthetic latex, impairing the effectiveness of the contraception.
When having sex, be careful to ensure the penis goes inside the female condom and doesn’t slip between the wall of the vagina and the condom. After sex, you should remove the female condom, being careful not to spill any of its contents. You can twist the larger ring to prevent this. Then dispose of it in a bin. Never flush a condom down the toilet.
What to do if you forget to use a female condom
If you’re not also using another form of contraception, failure to use a female condom, or using one that is damaged in any way, can result in pregnancy. In order to prevent this, you may need to use emergency contraception.
Unless your sexual partner is also using a condom that hasn’t failed, you may also be at risk of contracting an STI. You may wish to get tested at a sexual health clinic to find out, as untreated STIs can cause problems further down the line.
Who can use female condoms?
Female condoms are suitable for the majority of people to use. They can be used by those who can’t take hormonal contraceptives, and they have no effect on the menstrual cycle. There is no delay before they can be used after miscarriages, abortions or having a baby. However, female condoms may not be right for you if you aren’t comfortable touching your genital area.
How effective are female condoms?
When used correctly, a female condom is 95% effective in preventing pregnancy. They also provide reliable protection against STIs. However, this relies on you using them correctly - including using condoms that have been tested to an appropriate safety standard. When sourcing female condoms, you should only ever use ones that have the UKCA or European CE mark on the packaging.
Even if you use female condoms, sperm may enter the vagina, impacting female condom effectiveness. During sex, female condoms can get pushed into the vagina. This isn’t always a problem, as they can be easily removed. However, if they are pushed in too far, they may no longer form a barrier between the penis and vagina - meaning you are at risk of pregnancy and/or STIs.
This can also happen if the penis touches the vagina before the female condom is inserted, if the penis accidentally goes between the condom and the vagina, and if the condom gets damaged in any way. If you think any of these may apply to you, you should treat it as though you have forgotten to use a condom - seek emergency contraception and an STI test.
Advantages and disadvantages of female condoms
Female condoms have a number of advantages over other types of contraception - one of which being the way you use them. Unlike contraceptive pills, patches, rings and more, female condoms are intended to be used only when you have sex. This means you can get pregnant at any time if you so choose, allowing you greater control over your contraception.
Additionally, there are no serious side effects known to be caused by female condoms. They are not associated with any health risks either. However, if you or your partner are allergic to latex or synthetic latex, female condoms may cause a reaction.
Some people find that stopping sex to put on a condom can interrupt the mood, but there are ways to change this. Making the act of inserting a condom part of foreplay can help to ensure you don’t forget to use contraception.
Where to get female condoms
Unfortunately, female condoms are not as widely available as male condoms or other contraceptives, but you can still get them from plenty of places. Sexual health clinics, contraception clinics, genitourinary medicine (GUM) services, young people’s services and GP surgeries can all give out female condoms for free. However, it’s best to check beforehand that they do stock female condoms to avoid disappointment.
Alternatively, if you are over the age of 16, you can buy female condoms from supermarkets and pharmacies, both online and in store. Remember to always check for the UKCA mark or European CE mark that indicates the condoms have been tested to a high standard of safety.