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What Are Internal Condoms and How Do They Work?

What Are Internal Condoms and How Do They Work?

You’re probably familiar with external condoms, but have you ever heard of internal condoms? Yes, that’s a thing! Whereas external condoms are used by people with a penis, internal condoms are used by people with a vagina, and can also be used for the anus. Internal condoms are another great option for people looking for a non-hormonal, non-permanent form of birth control, but most people don’t even know they exist. That’s why we put together this guide to internal condoms and are answering all the big questions you might have: how do they work? How effective are they? And why are they so hard to come by?!

Let’s get into (😉) it! 

Disclaimer: Internal condoms are also known as “female” condoms, but we’re going to stick to using “internal” for the sake of inclusivity, as anybody with a vagina can use them!

Internal Condom Basics

What are internal condoms?

Internal condoms are nitrile pouches that are inserted into a vagina to protect from pregnancy and reduce the risk of STI’s. They work by creating a barrier inside of the vagina that prevents sperm from reaching an egg – and if sperm can’t reach any eggs, then you can’t get pregnant! The outer ring of internal condoms is made of nitrile, which is a soft plastic (non-latex), the inner ring is made of polyurethane, and both the inside & outside of internal condoms have silicone-based lubricant added.

Who can use internal condoms?

Internal condoms are meant for use by people with a vagina or an anus.

Why are internal condoms harder to find than external condoms?

One of the biggest drawbacks to using internal condoms as your primary form of birth control is that they’re much harder to find than external condoms. This is because unfortunately, there’s only one brand of internal condoms that’s been approved by the FDA and is available in the U.S., meaning it’s way more difficult to find them in your local grocery store, pharmacy, or gas station – where you can pretty much always find external condoms available for purchase. 

Are internal condoms one-size-fits-all?

Yep! Internal condoms don’t come in different sizes like external condoms do; rather, they’re meant to be able to line the walls of a vagina or anus of any size, leaving room for the insertion of a penis, fingers, or a sex toy.

Do internal condoms provide protection against STI’s?

They do! Just like external condoms, internal condoms help reduce the risk of STI’s during penetrative sex by providing a barrier between the vagina/anus and the penis. This reduces the chance of sharing bodily fluids and potentially passing along an STI.

If you’d like to learn more about how to have safer sex to protect you and your partner(s) against STI’s, check out our Beginner’s Guide to Safer Sex Practices, Products, & Tips!

How effective are internal condoms at preventing pregnancy?

Typically, internal condoms are around 79% effective, meaning around 21 out of every 100 people who use internal condoms as their primary birth control method will get pregnant every year. However, with perfect use every single time you have sex, the effectiveness can increase up to 95% – but you shouldn’t base your decision off of that number, as it’s not very realistic to expect perfect use every single time you have sex and want to prevent pregnancy!

In the case of internal condoms, “perfect use” looks like:

  • Wearing an internal condom every single time you have vaginal or anal sex
  • Wearing an internal condom the entire time you’re having sex
  • Making sure the internal condom is placed correctly in the vagina or anus before sex
  • NOT reusing internal condoms
  • NOT using internal condoms with external condoms, as this can cause tearing

How long should you wear an internal condom?

You should wear your internal condom the whole time you’re having vaginal sex or anal sex, from start to finish.

Can you use internal condoms more than once?

Nope! Just like external condoms, internal condoms should not be used more than once. Use it & lose it!

Are internal condoms better than external condoms?

In terms of preventing pregnancy, with internal or external condoms are your only method of birth control –

With perfect use, internal condoms have a success rate of 95%. With typical use, they have a success rate of about 79%.

With perfect use, external condoms have a success rate of 98%. With typical use, they have a success rate of about 87%.

So if you look at the numbers, external condoms have a higher success rate of preventing pregnancy! However, you should choose whichever type of condom that you/your partner will realistically be able to use “best” – meaning you use it every time you have sex, you’re able to afford to buy enough condoms and always have them available to you, and you use them correctly.

Can you use an internal condom and an external condom at the same time?

No, you should not use an external condom with an internal condom as it can lead to tearing. Doubling up with both types of condoms will NOT give you any extra protection, either – so choose one or the other!

Can you use lube with internal condoms?

Yes! While internal condoms do come already lubricated, you and your partner can absolutely add more lube if you want to. A huge pro of internal condoms is that you can use them with any type of lube: oil-based, water-based, silicone-based, or hybrid, whereas external condoms can only be used with water-based and silicone-based lube (NOT oil-based lube).

To learn more about the different types of lube and how to choose the best one for you, check out our Lube 101 Guide.

Pros & Cons of Internal Condoms

Let’s recap all that good info with a list of the pros & cons of using internal condoms to help you decide whether or not they’re the right birth control method for you!

Pros of internal condoms:

  • One-size-fits-all – no need to pay attention to buying the right size
  • Can help prevent pregnancy
  • Reduce the risk of STI’s
  • Compatible with all types of lube
  • Can be put in before sex, so you don’t have to stop in the middle of sex to insert
  • Latex-free & hypoallergenic

Cons of internal condoms:

  • Typically more expensive than external condoms
  • Harder to access than external condoms
  • Must use every time you have sex for maximum effectiveness
  • Slightly lower efficacy rate in preventing pregnancy compared to external condoms
  • Take a little more practice + getting used to than external condoms for penis owners

How to Use Internal Condoms

Inserting an internal condom can be a bit trickier than putting on an external condom, especially at first, so don’t worry if it takes you a little practice or takes some time to get used to!

Here’s a great set of graphics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that demonstrates exactly how to use an internal condom the right way:

How to Buy Internal Condoms

Because there’s only one internal condom brand in the U.S. that’s FDA-approved, internal condoms are much harder to come by than external condoms. If your insurance plan allows, you can get a prescription via the FC2 website and get internal condoms with a $0 out-of-pocket cost – or try getting a prescription from your doctor through your local pharmacy. Otherwise, you can usually find internal condoms at many Planned Parenthood centers or your local family planning or health clinics. 

We hope this guide opened your eyes to another great method that you have available to you for pregnancy prevention & protection against STI’s! Internal condoms are barely ever talked about, but we think it’s super important for you to know all of your options, and that you go into sex feeling as prepared, safe, and comfortable as possible. 

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