What Are Female Condoms? This Is How They Work & Where To Buy Them

When it comes to methods of sexual protection, it's important to take the time to figure out what works best for you. If you have a vagina, prefer to be the penetrated partner, and want to take control of your sexual health, you might be interested in female condoms — also known as vaginal or internal condoms. In addition to lowering your risk of pregnancy and the transmission of sexually transmitted infections, female condoms can also increase pleasure, according to Planned Parenthood. But what are female condoms, really?

"The female condom is essentially like a larger version of a male condom, but the difference is that it is inserted into the vagina or anus," sex and relationship psychotherapist Kate Moyle explains. "It acts as a second skin lining or barrier between the penis and vaginal canal to protect against unwanted pregnancy and STIs."

According to Planned Parenthood, female condoms are hypoallergenic cylindrical barriers made from a soft plastic material called nitrile. Like a male condom, female condoms are closed at the top and open at the bottom. However, these barriers also include flexible plastic rings on both ends that work as anchors to make sure the condom stays in place.

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Moyle further explains that part of the benefit of female condoms is the control it returns to the person inserting the condom into their body. "They can be inserted up to eight hours ahead of time and so there is no interruption to sex," Moyle says. "They are also latex-free, which is great for people with latex allergies who are still looking to enjoy safe sex."

And the benefits don't end there. According to Planned Parenthood, another reason for their pleasurable potential is that the two rings provide a chance for stimulation for both partners. On their website they say, "During vaginal sex, the female condom’s inner ring may stimulate the tip of the penis, and the external ring can rub against your vulva and clitoris. That little something extra can feel great for both of you." Pleasure from a condom — who knew, right? When accurately used, female condoms really have numerous, surprising benefits.

Although they aren't as popular as male condoms, female condoms are more accessible than you might think. The only FDA-approved brand of female condoms FC2 is most likely available for purchase at CVS, Walgreens, Wal-Mart, your local Planned Parenthood or sexual health clinic. If you still can't find them, check out FC2's distributor locator.

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Stephanie*, 24, who frequently uses female condoms with her partner. She explained, "When I first tried to use a female condom, it felt a bit awkward and I was nervous that it wouldn't work. I liked the extra stimulation of the rings, though, and after a few tries, like six, I think, I started to really like them. I still rely mostly on condoms with my boyfriend but if I want to switch things up, it's a method that I find really fun especially because of the way the rings feel."

Understanding your body and what works for you when it comes to sexual health, protection and contraception is not an easy feat. Of course not all sex is penetrative or requires contraception, but when it does there are numerous options for contraception and STI protection, like female condoms. It takes time to educate yourself on your options, and to figure out what methods might be right for you.

* Names have been changed.

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