An unpacked female condom, shown next to an orange for size perspective.

Photo by Clár McWeeney

Reading time: 7 min

Internal (female) condoms 101

Yes, they exist

by Clár McWeeney, and Nicole Telfer Reviewed by Eve Lepage, MSN, RN
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Top things to know about internal condoms:

  • Internal condoms (also known as female condoms) are a barrier-type of contraceptive that is inserted into the vagina or anus before having sex

  • Internal condoms protect against unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs)

  • People may enjoy sex more with an internal condom because they feel safe knowing that they are in control of their sexual and reproductive health

  • Internal condoms require practice to be inserted properly

For many people, the word “condom” usually evokes the male/external barrier method. But there is another type of condom; the internal condom. Internal condoms, also known as “female condoms,” can be used by anyone. They are placed either in the vagina for protection from pregnancy and STIs or in the anus to protect from STIs (1). 

What are internal (female) condoms?

An internal condom is a barrier method of contraception. Internal condoms are often made of nitrile with a polyurethane ring, which is safe to use for people who are allergic to latex. They help prevent pregnancy and STIs  (2), and can be placed several hours before initiating sex. Internal condoms can be used with all types of lubricants (3,4,5). 

To pee with the internal condom in place just move the outer ring to the side.

Most internal condoms have a flexible ring on both ends. The internal ring holds the condom inside the vagina. The external ring prevents the condom from being pushed up into the vagina (6). The external ring also covers part of the vulva (3,7). 

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Where can I buy an internal condom? 

The internal condom is only available by prescription in the USA and is often covered by insurance (5,8). It can be purchased from pharmacies, online pharmacies like simplehealth.com, some health clinics, and online from the FC2 website. 

In the UK, you can get both internal and external condoms for free from some general practitioners (GPs) and sexual health clinics. You can also buy them at some pharmacies and supermarkets. This is the same for France and Germany. 

Why use an internal condom?

The internal condom is unique because it is controlled by the person with a vagina or the person having a penis inserted into their body, which is different from an external condom that is placed directly on the penis

The internal condom also does not need to be removed immediately after sex (2,3). If your partner ejaculated, it can get messy when you stand up afterward. You can remove the condom while lying down. Grasping the outer ring of the condom and twisting it around a few times can seal up any ejaculate fluids for a quick and easy clean up process (2,3).

Using an internal condom reduces (but doesn’t eliminate) your risk of STIs during vaginal and anal sex (3,9). Following the instructions on the package with every use helps reduce risk. Other things that can also help are: 

  • Ensuring the outer ring covers the vulva or outer skin. If the outer ring is pushed into the vagina or anus, pull it back out.

  • Make sure the outer ring is not pushed to the side during intercourse. If it is, remove the penis or sex toy and start over.

  • Use only one condom at a time and use a new condom with each sexual interaction.

  • Use extra lubrication, especially during anal sex.

How to use an internal (female) condom

1. Check the package for any tears or defects and the expiration date, and make sure your hands are clean. Carefully remove the condom from its wrapper by tearing the package where directed. Do not use scissors or anything sharp to open the package that may tear the condom (be careful with your nails too). Unroll the condom.

Pinch the inner closed ring together so that it becomes narrow. Removing the inner ring may make insertion a little easier; however it can increase the risk of the condom breaking because of additional manipulation of the condom.

2. Find a relaxed position, which can be standing, squatting, or laying down. Insert the squeezed ring as high as possible into your vagina or anus using your finger. It's similar to inserting a menstrual cup or tampon. Use your finger to ensure that the condom is deep inside your vagina or anus.

3. Remove your finger. The rim of the condom opening should rest just outside of the vaginal or anal opening.

4. Make sure that the penis or sex toy goes inside the condom and does not slip past the side. If the outer ring is pushed into the vagina or anus, pull it back out.

5. To remove the condom, twist and gently remove from the vagina or anus. If there is semen, be careful to not spill it. Throw it away in the trash. Internal condoms are single-use; never reuse one (10).

Do internal condoms affect sexual pleasure?

There are some other advantages to using an internal condom, including the potential for increased sexual pleasure.

Internal condoms give women, people with vaginas, and people who have anal sex control of the protection used during sex (5,11). Research suggests that sex may be more pleasurable with an internal condom because of the wearer’s ability to control their protection from STIs and pregnancy (11,12). People who can’t always trust their partners to use a male (external) condom may experience less anxiety and more enjoyment when they can ensure protection (12).

Some women and their partners describe using an internal condom as enjoyable or better than using an external condom (11,12). Others enjoy the outer ring stimulating the clitoris and the internal ring providing additional stimulation for their partner (3,4,11,12).

Since the penis is not constricted by a tight male condom, partners may find it feels better for them too (3). Not everybody finds internal condoms pleasurable (12). Some people say the part covering the vulva reduces their sexual sensations (12).

One of the biggest drawbacks of internal condoms is that they are not as widely available as male (external) condoms. Getting comfortable with inserting properly may require practice. This gets easier with frequent use (3). Practice inserting and removing an internal condom a few times before trying it during sex (5).

The internal condom must be inserted prior to coming in contact with a penis (3). Inserting ahead of time can be seen as both an advantage and a disadvantage. On one hand, if it is already in place, you don’t have to interrupt the heat of the moment. On the other hand, you have to anticipate when you’ll have sex. Inserting the condom before foreplay may be easier than during foreplay, as the vagina and pelvis are more relaxed (3,10). 

It’s true, these condoms can sometimes make unexpected sounds during sex. Noise can be an issue for some people, but others like the sound (4). Using more lube and inserting the condom before initiating sex can help with this. 

How effective are internal condoms?

Internal condoms are effective at preventing unintended pregnancy. When used correctly during every sex act, 5 out of every 100 women using internal condoms will become pregnant in one year (3). People are not perfect though, so with typical use, 21 out of every 100 women (79%) using the internal (female) condom will become pregnant in one year (3). 

External condoms are more effective at preventing pregnancy. External condoms have a rate of around 2 pregnancies per 100 women per year when used correctly during every sex act (3). Internal condoms may still be a better option for some people.  

Internal condoms reduce the risk of infection with STIs, including HIV, when used correctly with every act of sex (3). 

Take time to practice inserting the internal condom. This is the main factor in its effectiveness (3). Internal condoms should not be used at the same time as a male condom. It increases the chance of tearing or slippage (3). 

Download Clue to track your sexual activity and more. Use custom tags to track contraceptive methods.

Article was originally published April 8, 2019.

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