Topic Overview

What is a female condom?

Condoms can protect you against sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and they can be used to prevent pregnancy.

The female condom is a tube of soft plastic
(polyurethane) that has a closed end. Each end has a ring or rim. The ring at
the closed end is inserted deep into the woman’s vagina over the cervix, like a
diaphragm, to hold the tube in place. The ring at the open end remains outside
the opening of the vagina.

The female condom is a barrier method of
birth control.

How do you get female condoms?

Female condom use doesn’t
require a prescription or a visit to a health professional. Condoms are sold in
drugstores and family planning clinics.

How well do female condoms work to prevent pregnancy?

If used
perfectly, the method failure rate for the female condom is 5%, meaning that
with perfect use, 5 women out of 100 will become pregnant in the first year
of use. With typical use, 21 women out of 100 will become pregnant in the first
year of use.footnote 1 This is mostly caused by not using the
condom every time with intercourse or by not following the directions for use.

How well do they work to prevent sexually transmitted infections (STIs)?

The female condom provides some protection of the genital
area around the opening to the
vagina during intercourse. And it may reduce the risk of
getting or transmitting diseases such as genital herpes or genital warts. Some
studies suggest that female condoms work as well as male condoms in
preventing STIs.footnote 2

How do you use a female condom?

You can insert a female condom up to
8 hours before sexual intercourse. This condom contains lubricant on the inside. Use a
new condom each time you have intercourse. Don’t use a female condom with a male condom.

  • These condoms have lubricant on the inside. Spread it by rubbing the sides of the condom together. You can also add lubricant.
  • Find a comfortable position to insert the
    condom. Some women stand with one foot on a chair. Other women sit on the edge
    of a chair or lie down.
  • Insert one finger into the condom. With
    your other hand, squeeze together the closed end of the condom and place that
    end into your vagina. Use the finger inside the condom to push the closed end
    as far into the vagina as it will go.
  • The open end of the condom
    will hang about an inch outside your vagina.
  • During intercourse, the penis should be inside the condom.
  • After ejaculation,
    remove the condom right away.

    • Twist the open outside ring to close off
      the condom and hold the semen inside before the condom is removed.
    • Pull the condom out before you stand up.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of female condoms?


The female

  • Doesn’t affect future fertility for either the woman or the
  • Is used only at the time of sexual intercourse.
  • Is
    safe to use while breastfeeding.
  • Is safe to use if you have a
    medical condition that limits your choices of other birth control methods.
  • Is available in drugstores without a prescription.
  • Provides some protection against STIs.
  • Keeps semen from touching the woman’s vagina. A few women are
    allergic to their partner’s semen.


  • Failure rates for
    barrier methods are higher than for most other methods of birth control.
  • Female condoms are more difficult to use than
    male condoms.
  • Some people are embarrassed to use this method or
    feel it interrupts foreplay or intercourse.
  • The couple must be
    comfortable with using the condom and be prepared to use it every time they
    have sex.
  • Condoms may decrease sexual sensation.

If a condom tears,
emergency contraception is available as an extra
method of birth control.



  1. Trussell J, Guthrie KA (2011). Choosing a contraceptive: Efficacy, safety, and personal considerations. In RA Hatcher et al., eds., Contraceptive Technology, 20th ed., pp. 45-74. Atlanta: Ardent Media.
  2. Minnis AM, Padian NS (2005). Effectiveness of female controlled barrier methods in preventing sexually transmitted infections and HIV: Current evidence and future research directions. Sexually Transmitted Infections, 81(3): 193-200.


ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Sarah Marshall, MD – Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Rebecca Sue Uranga, MD – Obstetrics and Gynecology

Current as ofMarch 16, 2017