Barrier Methods of Birth Control (cont.)

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Female condom

The female condom is not well known in the United States. It is essentially a vaginal pouch made of soft polyurethane (a type of plastic) with two rings at either end. One end of the pouch is open. The other end is closed. A woman inserts the closed end high up in her vagina over her cervix. The open end remains on the outside of her vagina. The vagina is now lined with the condom. When a woman has intercourse, the man inserts his penis into the open end of the woman's condom. Once intercourse is over and the man withdraws his penis, the condom containing the ejaculated sperm can now be removed and thrown away.

The female condom can be put in up to 8 hours before intercourse. A woman may need some practice before she can easily insert and position the condom within her vagina. The sides of the internal ring can be folded together and inserted into the vagina much like a diaphragm. The female condom is thinner than the male condom and is resistant to degradation by oil-based lubricants.

A female condom should never be used when the man is also wearing a condom. The two condoms can stick together and tear, resulting in no protection at all.

The female condom (Reality) was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1993. The Reality Condom is made of polyurethane, but other types of female condoms are available in other areas of the world. Its estimated effectiveness is 79% (21 pregnancies/100 women per year) as compared to 87% to 90% for the male condom.

Objections that have been made to the female condom include irritation and allergic reactions to the polyurethane. Other concerns are that the female condom is cumbersome, difficult to insert, may not remain in place, and is unattractive. It may also produce unpleasant noises if there is not enough lubrication. For this reason, most female condoms are now generously pre-lubricated with silicone and packets of additional lubrication are included.

The female condom (Reality) can be purchased over-the counter (OTC) without a prescription, but it may cost more than a male condom. Package instructions currently advise single use but studies are underway to determine if the female condom can be safely washed and reused up to five times.

The main disadvantage of the female condom is that it is not as effective as the male latex condom in preventing pregnancy.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 2/27/2014

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