Female condoms are a relatively new invention, available in this country since 1993. Currently two brands are on the market: Reality and Femidom, both available without a prescription at some drugstores. You can also buy them over the Internet and sometimes in feminist bookstores. Though not widely accepted in this country, they have some advantages.

The female condom is a loose-fitting, soft polyurethane pouch that lines the vagina

Closed end and closes off the cervix, preventing sperm from entering the uterus. It has two soft rings, one at each end. The smaller, closed ring is covered with the polyurethane and fits over the cervix, acting as an anchor. The larger open ring stays outside the vagina, covering part of the labia.

Figure: The female condom

Figure: The female condom

How do you use a female condom properly?

Use a new condom for each separate act of intercourse. The condom can be inserted up to eight hours beforehand, unless you have your period, in which case you should insert it shortly before intercourse.

Inspect the condom and make sure it is completely lubricated on the outside and the inside. While holding the sheath at the closed end, grasp the soft, flexible inner ring and squeeze it with your thumb and middle finger so it becomes long and narrow. With the other hand, separate the outer lips of your vagina and gently insert the inner ring. You should feel it go up and move into place.

Next, place your index finger on the inside of the condom, and push the inner ring up as far as it will go. Be sure the sheath is not twisted. The outer ring should remain outside the labia. The sheath adheres to the vaginal wall. The Reality female condom is prelubricated with a nonspermicidal lubricant. If you wish more lubrication, you can use any kind, since the polyurethane sheath is not affected by oil-based lubricants.

During intercourse, gently guide the penis with your hand, to be sure that it enters the sheath and not the space between the sheath and the vaginal wall. It is important to use enough lubricant so that the condom stays in place during sex. If the condom is pulled out or pushed in, there is not enough lubricant. Add more to either the inside of the condom or the outside of the penis.

To remove the condom, twist the outer ring and gently pull the condom out. To avoid spilling, remove it before standing up. Again, wrap it in a tissue and throw it in the trash.

Can you and your partner use a male condom and a female condom at the same time?

No, neither will work properly. The material used in condoms is meant to work against skin. If the two condoms rub together, friction could pull off the male condom or push the female condom into the vagina.

Can you use spermicide with a female condom?

You can use a spermicidal foam, gel, or film. Put the spermicide inside the vagina before you insert the condom or cover the outside of the condom with the spermicide. No studies have been done to show whether a spermicide increases condom reliability.

How reliable are female condoms?

Studies by the manufacturer showed that when used correctly every time, the female condom’s failure rate in a six-month study was 3 percent. Its actual failure rate was 12 percent. Based on these results, the annual failure rate is 5 percent for correct, consistent use, and 79 percent for typical use, higher than the failure rate for male condoms.

What are their advantages and disadvantages?

Female condoms, like the male ones, protect against Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome and other sexually transmitted diseases. Because their use is controlled by women, they have been endorsed by international Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome programs, including those sponsored by the United Nations. Female condoms are not made of latex, so they can be used with oil-based lubricants and will not deteriorate. They can be inserted well before intercourse. Female condoms, though more costly than male condoms, are not expensive — about $2.50 apiece.

Some women are put off by the appearance of the female condom and others by the need to insert it into the vagina. Some couples complain that it squeaks during intercourse, though the noise can be reduced by adding extra lubrication. The failure rate is higher than for male condoms; and female condoms are more expensive and somewhat more difficult to insert.


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