Condoms for women

Alternative names
Female condoms


The female condom, like the male condom, is a barrier device used for birth control. It is also protective against STDs including HIV. However, it is not thought to be as effective for this purpose as the male condom.

The female condom is made of polyurethane (a thin, strong plastic) and fits inside of the vagina. The condom has a ring on each end. The ring that is placed inside the vagina fits over the cervix, covering it with the protective rubber material. The other ring, which is open, rests outside of the vagina and covers the vulva.

The estimated effectiveness of the female condom is between 75% and 82%. The reasons for failure are the same as those for the male condom:

  • A rip or tear in a condom (can be made before or during intercourse)  
  • Spillage of semen from a condom while removing it  
  • Delayed placement of a condom in the vagina (penis comes into contact with vagina before condom is in place)  
  • Rarely, failure due to manufacturing defects  
  • Failure to use a condom during each act of intercourse


  • Condoms are available without a prescription, and they are fairly inexpensive (though more expensive than male condoms).  
  • Currently, female condoms can be purchased at most drugstores. They are also available at most venereal disease clinics, or clinics specializing in family planning.  
  • Some planning may be needed in order to have a condom handy at the time of intercourse. However, they may be inserted up to 8 hours before intercourse. You may also incorporate the insertion of the condom into your lovemaking.


  • Provides protection against pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.  
  • Eliminates the woman’s concern that the man won’t wear a condom. She can take precautions to protect herself from pregnancy and STDs without relying on the male condom.  
  • Can be used during menstruation, or pregnancy, or after a recent child birth.


  • There is no direct contact between the penis and the vagina.  
  • The woman is not aware of warm fluid entering her body (important to some women, not to others).  
  • Friction of the condom may diminish clitoral stimulation and reduce lubrication, making intercourse less enjoyable or even uncomfortable. (Using the provided lubricant may alleviate this problem.)  
  • The condom may make noise. (Using the lubricant may alleviate this problem.)  
  • Irritation and allergic reactions may occur.


  • Find the inner ring of the condom, and hold it between your thumb and middle finger.  
  • Squeeze the ring together and insert it as far as possible into the vagina, making sure that the inner ring is past the pubic bone.  
  • The outer ring should be outside of the vagina.  
  • Make sure that the condom has not become twisted.  
  • Before intercourse, and during it if necessary, put a couple of drops of water-based lubricant on the penis.  
  • After intercourse, and before standing up, squeeze and twist the outer ring to make sure the semen stays inside, and remove the condom by pulling gently. Use it only once.

You should always dispose of condoms appropriately in the trash. Do not flush a female condom down the toilet. It is likely to clog the plumbing.


  • Be careful not to tear condoms with sharp fingernails or jewelry.  
  • Use each condom only once.  
  • Make sure condoms are available and conveniently located. If there are no condoms handy at the time of a sexual encounter, you may be tempted to have intercourse without one.  
  • Do not use a petroleum-based substance such as Vaseline as a lubricant. These substances break down latex.  
  • If a condom tears or breaks, if the outer ring is pushed up inside the vagina, or if the condom bunches up inside the vagina during intercourse, remove it and insert another condom immediately.  
  • When you remove the condom after intercourse, and you notice that it is torn or broken, some sperm may have spilled inside the vagina, increasing your risk of becoming pregnant. Contact your health care provider or pharmacy for information about emergency contraception.  
  • Do not use a female condom and a male condom at the same time. Friction between them can cause them to bunch up or tear.  
  • Remove tampons before inserting the condom.


Johns Hopkins patient information

Last revised: December 3, 2012
by Martin A. Harms, M.D.

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