If you've never heard of female condoms, they're otherwise known as internal condoms or the brand name FC2 Female Condom, and they look like upside-down plastic bags. Unlike male condoms, they're relatively roomie and made of nitrile, a synthetic rubber that's considered effective at protecting against both STIs (including HIV) and pregnancy, according to The New York State Department of Health. While male condoms are worn on the outside of a penis or dildo, female condoms are worn inside a vagina. Still confused? According to Planned Parenthood, female condoms are sometimes called "innies" and male condoms are called "outies."
I take birth control pills, and I'm in a fluid-bonded, monogamous relationship, which means I don't have to use a sexual barrier like condoms. And even when I did need to use condoms, the standard latex versions worked fine for me. Until my current partner (who I'll call Sean) and I both got tested for STIs, we used male condoms without issue. But, if Sean had made a stink about wearing them, there would have been an issue. I can't deal with people who throw temper tantrums about having to wear condoms. All of this is to say that my exploration of female condoms was rooted in curiosity; I'd never used one before.
Sean and I decided to try one with the caveat that, if we don't like it, we'll switch to oral sex after. After fooling around for a bit, I carefully unwrapped the female condom. (Just like with male condoms, you want to be careful not to rip the condom itself when you open the package.) The condom indeed looked like an upside-down plastic bag, but it had two rings (one at the top and one around the rim of the opening) and it was about the size and shape of a can of Monster energy drink. I figured it must be a rule that if you’re using one of these with a cis male, you have to make a joke like, "Look, honey, they finally made a condom that’s big enough for you!"
After doing so, I inserted the female condom by squeezing the top (or "inner") ring with my fingers to make it long and narrow enough to fit inside my vagina. Then, I pushed the inner ring all the way in until it sat against my cervix. It's sort of like inserting a NuvaRing or a tampon without an applicator (this video is a great step-by-step visualisation, if you're curious). A little bit of the condom dangled outside of me, and I held onto that ring around the opening to keep the condom in place as Sean penetrated me. The insertion took a little manoeuvring, so if you’re going to try the female condom, I recommend practicing putting one in a few times before you use it with a partner.
It felt like there was a plastic bag hanging out of my vagina the whole time (but that's because there sort of was a plastic bag hanging out of my vagina).
And since I already spoiled the ending, it's safe to say that I did not enjoy the experience. It felt like there was a plastic bag hanging out of my vagina the whole time (but that's because there sort of was a plastic bag hanging out of my vagina). It didn't hurt, but it was uncomfortable because it felt really baggy and loose, and it bunched inside of me. Once we started to have sex, I felt hyper aware that there was a barrier between my partner's genitals and mine, far more so than I'd ever been with male condoms. But that could be because I'm just used to male condoms and this was a totally new sensation. Or maybe we just needed more lube inside the condom?
"This is unpleasant," Sean said.
"Yes. Get this thing out of me. I don’t want to wear this," I said, grabbing the outer ring, twisting the condom (to prevent semen from leaking out, per the instructions), and pulling it right out.
Then, I froze. There I was, a sex writer ripping out a condom during penetrative sex after whining like a child. I had become the person I hated. It took a few seconds, but once I got over that inner turmoil, we had sex without the female condom and both came our faces off (after adding in some sex toys for good measure). And for the record, I'm not a total hypocrite: Like I said, I'm on birth control and my partner and I have both been tested for STIs. So, I feel totally okay saying that female condoms probably aren't in my sexual destiny (for now, at least).
That doesn't mean that female condoms don't work for other people. If you have a latex allergy and need to use a sexual barriers, the fact that female condoms are made with nitrile is definitely a benefit. Or, if you have a penis and experience erectile dysfunction, Planned Parenthood says that female condoms are a good option, since you don't need to be erect to use one (unlike male condoms, which slip off if a boner begins to fade). If you’re someone with a large penis who truly finds wearing a male condom uncomfortable, you might want to consider the female condom, since it definitely has extra room (but make sure that your partner inserts it into their vagina, and do not put it over your penis).
Female condoms can also be inserted up to eight hours before sex, so if you’re someone who dislikes interrupting foreplay to put on a male condom, that’s a neat benefit. Just keep in mind that female condoms are more expensive than male condoms, and we don't yet know how safe these are to use during anal sex, according to the CDC. Also, female condoms aren't made to be reused, so throw them away after you're done each time.
There was one thing I enjoyed about using a female condom, though: the novelty of it. Sure, it wasn’t as tantalising as role-playing doctor and patient or going on a threesome date with a ballerina, but it was still something new to try. Despite not loving how it felt, Sean and I had fun — we laughed and we came (albeit after giving up on the female condom). If you’re going to try a female condom for novelty’s sake, just make sure you are also using backup safer sex methods.
Most importantly? When it comes to sexual barriers and other safer sex methods, you should find what works for you, and know that there are other options out there beyond latex male condoms. So, go forth and explore the female condom if you're interested — just make 100% sure you're being as safe as possible, and talk to your doctor if you're at all confused.