My boyfriend and I always use condoms, but I’m still worried about STIs and want more control over my method. What’s the deal with female condoms? Will I be extra protected if I wear one, too?
Great question! Internal (also called “female”) condoms are a great option for anyone who wants to take charge of their sexual health. We go into more detail about what they are and how to use them below. However, it’s a common myth that “doubling up” (using an internal and external condom at the same time) provides better protection. In reality, using two condoms (of any kind) at the same time makes it more likely that the condoms will break. This decreases their effectiveness. Although your condom enthusiasm is admirable, stick to one type at a time!
It sounds like you might have a lot of anxiety about sexually transmitted infections (STIs) despite your committed relationship with condoms. Take a moment to think about the root of your worries. It can be hard to enjoy your sexual relationship if you’re constantly preoccupied by fears about STIs. An open conversation with both your boyfriend and your medical provider can help address your concerns.
Internal condoms haven’t (yet!) enjoyed the same popularity as their external counterparts.
However, they’re a great safer sex tool. If you’re having penis-in-vagina (PIV) sex, internal condoms are a great hormone-free birth control method that provides protection from both pregnancy and STIs. They’re also great for preventing STIs during receptive anal sex.
The internal condom is a pouch made out of synthetic nitrile. It’s about six inches long with a flexible ring on each end. For vaginal sex, insert the closed-end ring into the vagina, and leave the other ring outside of your body. It’s a lot like inserting a tampon! If you’re using an internal condom for anal sex, remove the internal ring before inserting the condom into your anus. Just like with using the internal condom for vaginal sex, the other ring should remain outside your body. It can be a little challenging at first, so try practicing beforehand.
Some people prefer to wear internal condoms because they give them more control over their protection method.
Plus, you can insert internal condoms up to 8 hours BEFORE sex, which means you don’t have to worry about protection in the heat of the moment. Internal condoms don’t constrict the penis, and some people find that the outer ring rubs against their clitoris during vaginal sex, making sex more pleasurable for both partners! Internal condoms are also safe for those with latex allergies, and provide enhanced protection against STIs that are transmitted through skin-to-skin contact, like HPV and herpes.
Keep in mind that the rates of contraceptive failure for internal condoms are slightly higher than for external (“male”) condoms. Pay careful attention to the directions when inserting the condom and double check that you’re wearing it correctly. You can find step-by-step instructions for using an internal condom, from Bedsider.
If you’re having receptive anal sex or vaginal sex, internal condoms are a great way to take control of your sexual health!
You can get them at some drugstores, online, and (often free) from many community health or family planning clinics, including the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center.
If you’re 10-22 years old in NYC, stop by the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center on E. 94th Street in Manhattan to talk to a health care provider about your sexual health, and get free, confidential STI testing and treatment. We’ll also give you free internal condoms, and show you how to use them!
A version of this post was originally published in September, 2016.