I have to admit- until very recently, wearing a female condom felt a bit like stuffing a plastic bag inside of my vagina, and for the life of me, I couldn't figure out how to feel sexy with the ring of large outer portion dangling outside of my vulva. That said, due to more experience and research, I've recently converted my way of thinking. Would it be fair to say I've become a born-again? So before I go into what exactly a female condom is for those of you who have no idea what I'm talking about- here's some food for thought for those of you who have tried them and have been put-off by your initial encounters:
During a study, researchers asked 170 South African women to use three different versions of the female condom 5 times each. After nine weeks, they had the option of whether to continue with the study or not. Eighty-seven percent wanted to continue. There have been several other surveys also reflecting these similarly high percentages of women who would both choose to continue to use them and recommend them to friends.
So perhaps there may be an experiential learning curve when it comes to using this alternative barrier method to safer sex. Also, it helps to know the particular benefits of using this specific method- as opposed to thinking of them as just another version of the same old thing. In a way, comparing "female" condoms with traditional "male" condoms, may be like comparing apples to oranges. So as usual, lets start from the beginning.
What Are Female Condoms and Who Really Uses Them?
Despite their name, "female" condoms are not only worn by females. It would be more accurate and inclusive to say that they are "receptive" condoms because they are worn vaginally or anally by the sexually "receptive" partner. For even more straightforward accuracy, some people refer to them as "innie" condoms- as opposed to the more traditional "outie" condoms. For the most part, it is not necessarily an oversight that many companies still label them as "female" condoms despite the fact that they are also worn anally by all genders. The FDA has only approved them as vaginally worn condoms only because there is not enough official research to support other uses. However, this does not mean that they are ineffective when worn anally. It most definitely does not mean that they are not used any other way because they certainly are. Furthermore, there are several other kinds of "female" condoms out in the world market- some that have been rated higher in terms of comfort and efficacy- that are still not available in the U.S. because of said FDA approval. So take that with a grain of salt.
The most widely used female condom in the U.S. is the FC2 produced by The Female Health Company. This is their second-generation version made out of nitrile. Their first generation FC1 was made out of polyurethane and made crinkling sounds when you used them. Fortunately, they don't produce those anymore! The FC2 is a wide, loose fitting nitrile sheath with a flexible ring on the inside that acts as an anchor holding the condom in place within, and a large ring on the outside that prevents the condom from entirely slipping inside.
The Pros and Cons: or Why Are They So Great - or Not?
• Having access to "innie" condoms gives the receptive sexual partner leverage during "condom negotiations". It spreads the power and responsibility of condom usage evenly.
• For many individuals, having sex with a partner who is wearing an "innie" condom, sexual sensation is increased and more pleasurable than when wearing a traditional "outie"/"male" condom. This can be extremely helpful for those that have difficulty with blood circulation and penile desensitization.
• Similarly, one does not have to be fully erect to experience sexual intercourse with a partner when using a "female" condom. "Soft entry" sex is oftentimes a problem with traditional "male" condoms as there is a very large risk of condom slippage. This is not the case with "female" condoms.
• Have you ever had group sex and the action was regularly interrupted by frequent condom changes as the penetrative partner moved from one person to the other? Well, your ménage a trois can be much more streamlined with the use of "female" condoms! Assuming there is only one penetrative partner, no condom changes necessary!
• On this same note, have you ever been having anal sex and then wanted to be going back to vaginal sex, but now another condom change was necessary? The answer? "Female" condoms! The beauty of this one is that even if you are having sex with a fluid bonded partner (and therefore don't ordinarily use condoms with them), it is still unsafe to go from anal to vaginal without washing off first, so the anal use of an "innie" condom would prevent the necessity for that interruption and the two of you can switch back and forth until your heart is content.
• I found that anal sex is much more comfortable if I'm wearing an "innie" condom anally. There is much less unpleasant friction while still being able to enjoying the pleasure of penetration. Lube stays in place much better, too!
• Do you love giving slobbery blowjobs but there's that issue of undraped testicles? Throw a "female" condom over the whole package. I admit, that I have not attempted this particular use of the "female" condom, but have been given this information by a source close to me!
• Nitrile "female" condoms are safe to use with oil based lubes! So bust out that coconut oil. Just watch your sheets!
• Nitrile "female" condoms remain intact in various temperature conditions so if you accidentally leave them in your burning hot car, it's not going to be a problem (unless your car is literally on fire). Similarly, they heat up quite nicely to your body when used.
• You can insert them several hours ahead of time if "interrupting the moment" is a concern of yours. And yes, you can still urinate while wearing them.
• Some women report pleasurable clitoral stimulation from the outer ring.
• They fit beautifully over the head of the Hitachi Magic Wand (and most other wand type vibrators).
• Pricier than "male" condoms. However, they are oftentimes available for free at local Planned Parenthoods and LGBTQI community centers. (Jellywink Boutique is also offering them for free while supplies last).
• It's not the sexiest looking thing in the world. Hopefully, better-designed versions will eventually become available. Also, I challenge you to fetishize the new look! That can be a handy skill!
• Inserting the condom takes a little bit of practice and not everybody likes the feeling of an insert able barrier. However, keep this is mind: Insert able tampons have been around for thousands and thousands of years. Despite this, it still took many decades after the official tampon patent in the 1930's for doctors to stop treating them like they were some weird gross foreign object and start endorsing it's use. It took many women a long time not to view and experience them as some obscene object.
• It can be a problem if the lip of the condom folds over and the penis enters between the outside of the condom and the vaginal wall. Therefore, partners need to be mindful with every full re-entry.
How to Use "Female" or "Innie" Condoms
For Vaginal Use:
1) Pinch the inner ring flat. Some folks twist it over into a figure eight so that it is easier to keep it collapsed.
2) Although the inside of the condom comes pre-lubed with silicone lube, it can help to apply extra lube to the outside and on the vulva to aid in insertion and to make it more comfortable when in use.
3) Push the collapsed inner ring into your vaginal canal up past your pubic bone, make sure it's not all twisted up, and then let it expand. It should be encircling your cervical entrance and you can fidget with it a bit to position it. You shouldn't be feeling this inner ring at all. If you do, you may not have pushed it in far enough before letting it expand.
4) It helps to insert the condom a little bit ahead of time (like a few minutes or more), so that it has some time to adhere to your vaginal wall. This will limit the amount it slips around during use. This may even feel strange at first because with the condom adhered to your vaginal wall, it won't feel like either you or your partner are wearing a condom. A good strange.
5) Be mindful of initial entry and any full re-entry. Be sure that the penis does not accidentally enter through the side.
6) After you're through with your fun, twist the end of the condom before pulling it out, in order to prevent any leakage of seminal fluids.
7) Wrap it in tissue and toss it in the trash. Do not flush it down the toilet! (Unless you want to clog your pipes).
Warning: Never use a "female" and "male" condom together. The friction of both materials rubbing together will lead to a much greater risk of the materials tearing.
For Anal Use:
So there are two camps of people when it comes to how to use "female" condoms for anal use. Some say remove the inner ring because it can damage sensitive anal tissue. And others say that it really is not a problem to leave the inner ring in. I've used it both ways and am now a fan of keeping the inner ring in. Otherwise, without that anchor, the condom does not stay in place at all and simply acts like an oversized traditional "male" condom. I would not feel comfortable having my partner ejaculate into a situation like that. Also, inserting it without the inner ring is a bit difficult unless you have really long fingers or are having the penis push it in for you.
Inserting it anally with the inner ring still in place is pretty similar to inserting it vaginally. Collapse the inner ring, lube it up, slide it all the way in as far as you can get it, make sure it's not all twisted up, and let it expand. Also see above for precautions and removal!
Like everything else in life, practice does make perfect!
Ally Booker is a pleasure activist. She is passionate about educating herself and others on cool sexuality related things like communication skills, creating and respecting boundaries, sexual self-determination, destigmatization, gender and sexual expressions, sex toy use and safety, and all the other mechanics of pleasure. You can often find her milling around her Tucson shop, Jellywink Boutique, 418 E. 7th St., (888) 874-6588.