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Female condoms, also known as internal condoms, have many of the same attributes and advantages as male condoms, also known as external condoms.

Internal and external condoms help prevent pregnancy by stopping sperm from entering the vagina during intercourse. They also protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs), such as HIV/AIDS and viral hepatitis.

Internal condoms are latex pouches that you insert into the vagina. They have flexible rubber rings at each end. One end holds the condom in the vagina like an anchor, and the other end stays outside the vagina during sex.

They’re made of natural rubber latex, nitrile (a synthetic latex), and polyurethane, a type of plastic material.

The only FDA approved female condoms are the FC1 and the FC2. The FC1, made from plastic, is no longer produced. The FC2 is made of synthetic rubber called nitrile and polyurethane.

To use an internal condom:

  1. Gently remove the condom from its wrapper by tearing it by its notch. Do not use a sharp object, including your teeth, so you don’t mistakenly tear it.
  2. The condom has two ends: the closed inner end and the open outer end. In between the two ends is a sleeve that lines the vagina. Use your thumb and index finger to squeeze the ring at the closed end and put it into the vagina, like you would a tampon or menstrual cup.
  3. Push the ring at the closed end up the vaginal wall until it sits comfortably, near the pubic bone.
  4. Make sure the open outer ring stays outside the vagina.
  5. When you’re ready for penetrative sex, you or a partner can insert a penis or dildo in the outer end of the condom.
  6. After sex, use your finger to twist the outer end together and gently pull it out of your vagina to avoid semen spillage.

According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the internal condom is a barrier method of birth control designed to limit the risk of contracting STIs and unintended pregnancy by protecting the vagina from semen.

The manufacturers of FC2 say that using the internal condom for anal or oral sex would be “off-label use.”

What is barrier birth control?

Barrier methods of birth control prevent pregnancy by actively blocking sperm. Other forms include diaphragms, cervical caps, and the contraceptive sponge, which contains spermicide, a chemical that blocks the entrance to the cervix and kills sperm.

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The internal condom is intended for single-time use. Meaning, you shouldn’t reuse it after a round of vaginal sex.

You should never use more than one condom at a time. Using more than one may cause friction between both condoms and could cause them to tear and fail.

Read the instructions on the package before use to ensure you don’t miss out on any critical details on how to use it.

Thoroughly check the condom for any wear or tear. Do not use it if you notice any defect. You can use the condom 2 hours before penetrative sex.

What’s more, you can leave the internal condom on after ejaculation. Still, FC2 manufacturers recommend that you remove it before standing up to prevent semen from spilling out of the condom and getting in contact with the vagina.

Although the condom comes pre-lubricated with a non-spermicidal, silicone-based lubricant, you can also use any type of lube with it to improve comfort.

Dispose the condom after use. Don’t flush it down the toilet, because it may block it.

Internal condoms have a slightly lower efficacy rate than external condoms.

Experts measure the effectiveness of birth control based on typical use and perfect use. Typical use implies that the person doesn’t always use it correctly and consistently. Perfect use means that the person thoroughly follows the instructions and consistently uses it.

Generally, the success rate for internal condoms is 79 percent for typical use and 95 percent for perfect use. Meanwhile, external condoms have an 87 percent success rate for typical use and 98 percent for perfect use.

Internal condoms have a 5 percent failure rate for perfect use, versus 21 percent for typical use. External condoms have a 2 percent failure rate for perfect use and 13 percent for typical use.

When used correctly, internal condoms can help stop the spread of STIs.

Internal condoms offer many of the same benefits as external condoms. Some of their unique benefits include:

  • Increased sexual pleasure. The internal condom is made of polyurethane, which transmits heat and stays warm to the body, making sex feel more natural to you and your partner(s). Also, the external ring may stimulate the clitoris, while the internal ring may stimulate the tip of the penis.
  • Does not contain latex. While some external condoms are made of latex, the internal condom is made of nitrile and polyurethane, making it good for people with latex allergies.
  • Protection against unintended pregnancy and STIs. The internal condom offers double protection against STIs and unintended pregnancy, because it covers the internal and part of the external genital from your partner’s body fluid.
  • Can be used with oil-based and water-based lubricant. Unlike the external condom, you can use the internal condom with oil-based and water-based lubricant without the condom becoming less effective.
  • Longer shelf-life. The internal condom doesn’t need special instructions for storage, because temperature and humidity don’t affect it. Also, it can last for up to 5 years.
  • You can insert the condom 2 hours before penetrative sex. This allows you to prepare for intercourse ahead of time.

Internal condoms are simple to use. Still, some people find them bothersome or uncomfortable to insert and wear during sex.

With a bit of practice and experience, you may find them more comfortable to use. Like external condoms, you need to use them properly and consistently to prevent unintentional pregnancy and the spread of STIs.

However, they’re not as accessible and readily available as external condoms. The FC2 is the only brand of internal condoms approved by the FDA.

You can purchase the internal condom directly from the FC2 website or a local pharmacy or store, like Walmart or Target. You may also be able to get them free from non-profit organizations.

Internal condoms cost an average of $3 each, making them a bit less cost-effective than external condoms.

The FDA states that some side effects are associated with using an internal condom, including:

  • burning
  • rash
  • discomfort
  • itching

Internal condoms offer a more pleasurable, allergy-free, and effective way to help prevent unwanted pregnancy. When used correctly, they also prevent the spread of STIs.

Follow the package directions to insert and remove them properly. You can also use them with your favorite choice of lubricant without reducing their effectiveness.