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A key part of sexual health is understanding the various methods for reducing the chances of unintended pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases. The most well-known barrier method is the male condom (often called simply a “condom”), but another type of condom, called a female condom, is also an effective barrier method.

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What Is a Female Condom?

A female condom (also called a vaginal condom or internal condom) is a loose, sheath-style barrier device worn inside the vaginal canal during sexual intercourse. A female condom can reduce the chances of pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections or sexually transmitted diseases (STIs or STDs), including herpes, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), and human papillomavirus (HPV).

Female condoms are usually made from latex alternatives, like polyurethane, synthetic latex, or nitrile, to avoid allergic reactions or side effects from those with latex allergies. Female condoms are around 95 percent effective as birth control or STI prevention when used correctly, while male condoms are 98 percent effective when used correctly.

You can purchase female condoms over-the-counter, without a contraception prescription from a healthcare professional, in many locations, from drugstores to supermarkets. Some family planning clinics provide free female condoms upon request.

5 Tips for Using a Female Condom

Here are some tips to ensure that female condoms will be as effective as possible during safe sex:

  1. Check the expiration date. All condoms have a product lifespan ranging from one to five years, depending on the type, packaging condition, and storing methods. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), every individual female condom wrapper should include an expiration date, after which the condom can be less effective as a contraceptive method or STI barrier.
  2. Use water- or silicone-based lubricants. Oil-based lubricants—like baby oil, petroleum jelly, vaseline, lotion, coconut oil, or vegetable oil—can break down the material of female condoms and cause it to break. Instead, use water- or silicone-based lubes.
  3. Use one condom at a time. While it may seem like using both a male condom (on the penis) and a female condom (in the vaginal canal) simultaneously would increase the barrier effectiveness, doing so can cause unwanted friction or sticking and tear the prophylactic.
  4. Use once and dispose. Female condoms are for one-time use. After you remove a female condom, throw it away rather than putting it back on later in the session or saving it for use at a later date. Pre-used condoms are more liable to break or leak.
  5. Store properly. Similar to male condoms, female condoms can break down when exposed to heat, friction, or excess moisture, causing them to be less effective. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states to store all condoms in a cool, dry place without large swings in temperature. Avoid storing condoms in your glovebox, where the heat can make them ineffective, or a wallet, where potential friction can result in tearing or breakage.
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