Sex ed in the city: female condoms?

File photo. Female condoms are a viable alternative to popular male condoms. (cwd271 / Flickr)

Dear Sex Ed in the City,

I am interested in using a female condom because I have heard it may give me more protection against STIs.   I don’t know much about how effective they are in preventing pregnancy and how available they are.  Can you give me some information?

Sure we can!

A female condom, also known as an internal condom, is a polyurethane (latex free) pouch that looks like a large male condom with a flexible ring at each end.  The smaller ring fits inside the vagina and keeps the end of the condom against the cervix while the outer ring hangs outside the vagina and covers the vulva.   It is a barrier method of birth control and stops the sperm from getting into the woman’s cervix.  It will prevent pregnancy 79-95% of the time depending on the correctness of use so using dual protection such as the pill, patch or IUD is a good idea especially when you first start using a female condom.   It offers protection against sexually transmitted infections including HIV, and it offers more protection from genital warts and herpes because it covers more of the external genitalia.   Another upside is that it can be put in up to 8 hours before sex and can be used for anal sex as well.   A couple important things to remember are that more lubrication inside the condom is often required to keep intercourse friction-free, and your partner or you should guide the penis into the entrance to prevent it from sliding down the side of the condom into the vagina.  Using a male condom at the same time is not recommended since the friction of the two condoms against each other may damage them. It is always a good idea to practice inserting the female condom before using it as protection

You can buy the female condom at pharmacies but they are much more expensive than male condoms.  Because of this cost, it is probably a good idea to first get a female condom free from your local community clinic, the SERC office or your public health nurse so that you can test it out and see if it is a contraceptive method you feel comfortable using.

Go to to get more information on how to use the female/internal condom.

Information provided by the Sexuality Education Resource Centre.  Do you have questions about sexuality?  Send them to

The information provided in this article is not intended as medical advice.  Should you have any questions, please contact your health care provider.

Republished from The Quill print edition, Volume 103, Issue 25, March 19, 2013.