I have been aware of female condoms since I became sexually active (17 years old), but only started experimenting with them with long-term intimate partners. In principle the idea is great: give people with vagina more agency over their sexual health and safer sex options, without having to rely on their partners’ willingness, knowledge, and/or ability to use a condom. This concept is especially powerful for sex workers, who – with the female condom – don’t have to necessarily rely on their clients for protection.
Here is the thing though:
Safer sex supplies need to be both safe and accessible, meaning that it shouldn’t be rocket science not just to figure how to use them, but also and especially how to use them effectively. It took me a few times and a bit of trial and error to figure out to insert properly the female condom (which is basically a large version of a regular condom to be inserted inside the vagina – the circular base then rests over the sides of the vaginal opening, which as far as I know adds a bit of extra protection than the regular condom, as it adds an extra barrier to the area of contact).
It also took me enough intimacy and confidence with my partners to decide to go there and feel safe enough to explore this method.
Every time I have used it, it involved me and my partners stopping from what we were doing, talking about whether we were in the mood to use (or try to use) the female condom, then taking it out and try to apply it with a lot patience, only to then resume where we left off. A couple of times I just had to throw it away and gave up because it just wouldn’t go in properly, and once it nearly went all inside while I was having penetrative penis-vagina sex…
Ops! I’d like to point out that I am not a newbie at putting stuff in my vagina, as in I have been using menstrual cups for over 10 years, I am comfortable with putting my fingers inside my vagina, can identify my cervix and I am also a regular user of both the Caya cup (diaphragm) and the FemCup (cervical cup). So I wouldn’t necessarily attribute my failed attempts at the female condom to lack of knowledge of or experience with my genitalia.
The other part of it is that, in all honesty, the female condom is not all that aesthetically pleasing. Normally I wouldn’t care much about this stuff, but you really gotta feel safe and comfortable around your partner to use, in my opinion. I wouldn’t pull out a female condom for a one night stand with someone I barely know, as I am not in for snarky comments on how “it looks like I have a plastic bag hanging out of my vagina”. Oh, and it is more expensive than the regular condom.
Now to the pros
A lot of people with penises have said that – once they get the hang of it – they prefer the female condom because they can hardly feel it, and they don’t have to wear a condom. It’s also great in case you might like to have some penetrative sex and then want to give oral to your partner in between. While that is not safe re: STI prevention of course, it is great for people who look for alternatives for such options (not so great the other way around though, as oral sex on someone wearing a female condom is a bit weird as the clit and labia are exposed but the rest is kind of covered by it).
I haven’t noticed much difference in feeling and/or comfort while using the female condom and switching positions, though gravity makes it a bit more comfortable (at least for me) with me on my back. Female condom does not affect pleasure if you apply it correctly. Overall, I’d say that it may not be as effective as a safer sex tool for occasional sex (or at least it hasn’t been a go-to option for me), but it can be a great prompt to increase intimacy and explore deeper knowledge of each other’s bodies with a partner. as well as a nice non-hormonal birth control option. If you take it as something new and fun you are going to try together, you might even like it. 😉
About the author:
Pronouns she/her. Identifies as queer and has been practicing ethical non-monogamy for a few years now. Has worked as a harm reduction, consent, and sexual violence prevention educator, and has engaged in sex work in the form of web camming. She is sex postive, body positive and committed to anti-oppression.