A female condom or femidom, also known by the brand name FC2, is a flexible pouch that is inserted into the vagina or anus before sex. They can help prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.

During intercourse, the thin silicone-coated, polyurethane or nitrile sheath collects ejaculated semen.

The female condom looks different from the male condom. Female condoms are pouches with a soft, flexible ring on each end.

Used correctly, they are 95-percent effective in preventing pregnancy, compared with male condoms, which are 98-percent percent effective.

Fast facts on the female condom:

  • Used correctly, a female condom is 95 percent effective.
  • Female condoms do not usually contain latex.
  • They protect a wider area of the body than male condoms.
  • Female condoms can usually be purchased over the counter at pharmacies.
  • An office visit with a healthcare provider is not usually necessary.
  • Do not use oil-based lubricants with female condoms.

For a female condom to be effective in preventing pregnancy, it must be used correctly.

Female condoms are 95-percent effective in preventing pregnancy when used correctly, with a 5-percent failure rate.

However, statistics show that, due to incorrect use, they are 79-percent effective. Every year, 21 women in every 100 who use a female condom become pregnant.

Male condoms, in comparison, are 85-percent effective.

It is important to follow the instructions when using any type of condom.

The condom can be inserted up to 8 hours before intercourse.

Here are some step-by-step instructions:

To use for anal sex, remove the inner ring, push the condom in with a finger, and leave the outer ring hanging out.

Note, however, that female condoms have not yet received official approval for use in anal intercourse.

Advantages

A female condom is a good choice of birth control in that it:

  • is safe, simple, and convenient
  • is female-controlled
  • can be used during menstrual periods
  • can be used with spermicide
  • can be inserted up to 8 hours in advance or as part of sexual foreplay
  • can be used by people with a latex allergy
  • can be used with silicone-, and water-based lubricants
  • will not affect a woman’s hormones
  • does not require a male erection to keep it in place

The external ring may enhance clitoral stimulation in some women.

The device also covers a wider area than the male condom. In this way, it can provide extra protection from disease for the labia, perineum, and base of the penis.

This may reduce the risk of human papillomavirus (HPV) and herpes.

The female condom comes in one size only, and it does not have to be fitted.

Possible disadvantages

There are some drawbacks to using the device.

It may lead to:

  • vaginal, vulvar, anal, or penile irritation
  • allergic reaction
  • vaginal discomfort

Other problems are as follows:

  • It may also slip into the vagina or anus during intercourse.
  • Sexual sensation may be reduced, and there may be noise during sex.
  • It is less discreet than other forms of contraception.
  • It is more expensive than male condoms and may be harder to find.

Reasons for caution include the following:

  • It has a lower efficacy rate than other non-barrier methods.
  • It is not officially approved for anal intercourse.
  • Each female condom can only be used once.
  • More research is needed on how effective it is at protecting against sexually transmitted diseases (STIs).
  • You need to learn how to use it properly.

Used correctly, female condoms offer some protection from sexually transmitted infection (STIs), but they must be used correctly. It is not approved for anal sex.

Tips for use

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provide some tips for safe and effective use.

These include:

  • reading the package instructions and checking the expiry date
  • storing condoms in a cool, dry place
  • checking the condom for tears and defects before use
  • using a lubricant to prevent slipping and tearing
  • using a female condom from start to finish, each time you have sex

Never do the following:

  • Never use a male condom with a female condom, as devices may tear.
  • Never reuse a female condom.
  • Never flush a condom as they can clog a drain and cause environmental damage.

Where can I find them?

The FC2 Female Condom is the female condom approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Female condoms usually cost around $3 each, or around $20 for a pack of 12, but some organizations offer them for free. Sometimes they are available on prescription, and some insurance policies may cover them.

They have been available over the counter and online. Recently, there has been a move to make them available on prescription only.

However, they are still available from community health clinics, where you can still get them without seeing a doctor.

If you have any questions about female condoms, how to use them, and if they are the right choice for you, speak with your healthcare provider.