Female Condoms: Effectiveness and Benefits

Medically Reviewed by Nivin Todd, MD on January 10, 2023
4 min read

Contraception comes in many forms. A female condom is one type of barrier method that prevents pregnancy and can help keep you safe from sexually transmitted diseases.

It's a thin tube made of nitrile rubber or lab-made latex that you put into your vagina and take out after sex.

Female condoms have a rim on each end. You place the end with a closed rim as far as you can inside your vagina and let the open end cover the front of your vagina. When you have sex, your partner’s penis enters your vagina through the condom tube.

The condom keeps sperm out of your uterus (your womb), which prevents you from getting pregnant. Plus, the condom protects you and your partner from STDs because neither of you come in contact with the other’s sexual fluids.

After sex, you carefully pull the condom out of you while making sure to keep the semen inside of it. You should only use a female condom once and throw it in the trash when you’re done.

If you use a female condom, your partner doesn’t need to wear a male condom. If you use two condoms at the same time, they could rip.

If the condom breaks or you don’t use it correctly, you aren’t protected from pregnancy or STDs. You should make sure:

  • The package isn’t damaged before you use the condom.
  • The condom hasn't expired.
  • You use the condom the entire time you have sex.
  • The condom doesn’t tear.
  • Your partner’s penis stays inside the condom and doesn’t slip outside of it.
  • The condom doesn’t come out during sex.
  • The outer part of the condom doesn’t go inside your vagina.

Female condoms work almost as well as male condoms as long as you use them correctly. They’re about 95% effective, which means that in a year, 5 out of 100 women who use them the right way every time will get pregnant. Compare that to 2 out of 100 women whose partners always use male condoms correctly.

For couples that don’t always use it the right way, about 21 out of 100 women will get pregnant every year. For male condom users, that number is 18.

Female condoms won’t eliminate your risk of getting a sexually transmitted disease (STD), but they do greatly cut your chances.

One of the biggest advantages of female condoms is that you can buy them without a prescription or a visit to your doctor for an exam.

Female condoms also make life easier by allowing you to prepare for sex. You can put one in up to 8 hours in advance. Your partner may also have a more comfortable experience since female condoms can fit a range of penis sizes. You may also enjoy extra stimulation to your clitoris from the outer ring. Plus, you can use any kind of lubricant with it.

Other benefits include:

  • Works instantly
  • Your partner doesn’t need to remove their penis as soon as they ejaculate
  • Good for people who are allergic to latex
  • An erect penis isn’t needed to keep it in place
  • Has little to no side effects
  • OK for anal sex

Female condoms do have disadvantages. Compared to male condoms, they have a higher failure rate, are harder to find in stores, and can be more expensive.

Couples sometimes don’t like to see the outer ring and find the condom to be noisy during sex. Other possible negatives include:

  • Uncomfortable putting in the condom
  • Allergic reaction to it that causes pain and an itchy or burning feeling
  • Discomfort while using the condom
  • Potential urinary tract infection (UTI) if the condom stays in too long

A female condom might not be right for you if you’re allergic to lab-made latex, nitrile, or polyurethane or if you think it might not work properly in your vagina.

If you have health insurance and your health care provider prescribes female condoms, you should be able to get them for free. Insurance plans are required to cover all FDA-approved methods of contraception. 

If you use Medicaid, check to see if your state covers female condoms. States are required to provide family planning services and supplies, but they have some flexibility about exactly what they offer. 

The FDA doesn’t require prescriptions to get female condoms. But Veru, the company that makes FC2, the only female condom authorized by the FDA, only makes them available with a prescription in the U.S. Telemedicine is an option for getting a prescription; you may not need an in-person appointment with your doctor.

Other places that might carry female condoms in the U.S. include health clinics and some nonprofit organizations.

You can find female condoms being sold online. However, FC2’s maker notes that their product is not sold on e-commerce sites or in sex shops.