Have you heard of female condoms? You might also hear them referred to as "internal condoms." If you’re like me, they may have been given a passing reference in a sex ed class. The problem is, when you’re barely into puberty it’s hard to even imagine what to do with an elephant-trunk shaped tube of polyurethane (now nitrile). Which end is up? How do you get the thing in there? Plus, for the poor teacher stuck with demonstrating this stuff, stretching a condom over a banana must seem so much more manageable.
I also wondered why women would ever need a female condom. I mean, aren’t we just supposed to insist that a dude do the honorable thing and suit up before sex? Sure, that’s important. But so are options, especially since condoms - and every other form of birth control, for that matter - aren’t perfect. Female condoms are one more option to consider - and a better one than you might think. So, in honor of Global Female Condom Day (yes, it’s a thing), here are eight things you may not know about female condoms.
They Go In Easy(ish)
Think back to the first time you ever used a tampon. Or, heck, the first time you had sex. It took some practice, right? But once you got the hang of it, it was smooth sailing from there. The same goes for the female condom. It isn’t hard to put in, it just takes a few tries to get the hang of it. Get your partner to help; most guys are pretty keen to put anything in there if you ask nicely. You can also check out the video below for insertion instructions.
They Get the Job Done
Female condoms have an edge on most other forms of birth control for women: They protect against pregnancy and STIs. Huzzah! Plus, according to a report by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), they’re "at least as effective" as male condoms at both. There’s even some evidence that female condoms provide better protection against diseases like genital herpes or syphilis because they provide more coverage. Now that is definitely a good thing. (Check out more options in We Asked An Expert: Which Birth Control Is Best?)
They Stimulate the Penis
Now here’s where things get interesting. A male condom can be designed to provide extra pleasure for both the wearer and his partner. Some guys like that extra friction, some don’t. The female condom provides another option. According to Sarah Gaudreau, Project Director for the Washington AIDS Partnership Female Condom Initiative, men report that they like the sensation the inner ring (which hangs out near the cervix) of the female condom provides. Plus, the overall experience is much closer to riding bareback. Statistically speaking, many men don’t like condoms. If they like this nifty contraption better, everyone wins.
And the Clitoris
Don’t worry, ladies, you won’t be left out here: Some women report that the female condom helps them orgasm. How? Well, the soft, rolled outer ring, which fits outside the body, can stimulate the clitoris during intercourse.
"We tracked 60 women for six months and found that women who use female condoms had a really big increase in sexual pleasure," Gaudreau said. "We had women who were recording having multiple orgasms for the first time in their lives."
Part of the reason female condoms have been in the closet for so long is because before 2005, the product just wasn’t that good. It was crinkly, it was noisy and at a few dollars apiece, it wasn’t exactly a cheap lay. The new, FC2 version was approved by the FDA in 2009. It’s safe, effective and made of super-soft, silent nitrile, which warms to the skin and conforms to the inside of the vagina for a more natural feel. Plus, the price has come down to about $1.50 to $2 per condom. That’s not as cheap as a male condom, but it’s getting closer. (Find out why Kinkly writer The Redhead Bedhead loves the FC2 in The Birth Control I Never Thought I'd Use.)
You Can Use Them for Anal
Yup, you heard that right: FC2 can be used for anal sex. Just as with vaginal sex, this barrier provides a different option - and different sensation - than using a male condom. Just remove the condom’s inner ring and push it into the rectum, or place it over the man’s penis and push it into the rectum.
"It isn’t approved for anal sex [by the FDA], but male condoms aren’t approved for anal sex either. The reality is that it’s safer to be protected," Gaudreau said.
You got that right. Plus, because female condoms are basically big receptacles for lube, they might even make your anal adventures a little more pleasurable. (Get some tips on safe anal play in What You Need to Know About Anal Sex.)
They’re Cheap Enough
One big criticism of female condoms is the price. Yeah, they cost more than male condoms, but if you’re more likely to use them, $2 is still a lot cheaper than an unexpected pregnancy - or dealing with an STD. Am I right?
The Main Reason Women Aren’t Using Them Is Stupid
According to a study done by the Centers for Disease Control in 2002, only about 2 percent of American women had ever used a female condom. Granted, that’s an old study (although it's still the most recent data available), but even if the newer, better FC2 has nudged that percentage up a bit, this still isn’t a very popular form of birth control. The reason is simple. And it’s stupid. Are you ready for this? Women don’t like to touch their own vaginas.
"I’m surprised by how many people don’t know about female anatomy," Gaudreau said. "To insert a female condom, you have to have some idea of what’s going on down there. I’m surprised by how many women can’t find their own pubic bone. I’m surprised by how many women are afraid to touch themselves."
Yeesh. So are we. If you think the female condom is weird, you’ve gotta wonder whether banishing a part of your own body as untouchable isn’t kind of weird too. And sad. (Learn to love your lady bits! Read Your Vagina Isn't Ugly, It Just Looks That Way.)
They Deserve Some Respect
Maybe you’d rather stick with male condoms, or birth control pills or an IUD. Good for you. Safe sex in any form is a beautiful thing. But aren’t you glad you have those choices to make? The female condom is just one more option; one that gives women additional control in protecting themselves against STIs; one that avoids all the potential side effects that come with hormonal birth control; and one that’s a lot more practical in other parts of the world, where hormonal contraceptives are harder to come by (and STIs are an even bigger concern).
So maybe this method of birth control isn’t right for you, but give it a cheer anyway in honor of Global Female Condom Day. Chances are the female condom is just right for someone. In a world where there are still far too many unintended pregnancies and cases of STI transmission, that's something worth celebrating.
Have you given female condoms a try? Let us know in the comments.