Warning: This article is intended for an adult audience and contains explicit sexual references.
You've probably never seen a female condom, once known as a femidom, before. You can't generally find them in the personal care aisle of the supermarket beside the lube and the men's condoms.
In this age of sexual liberation, all women have the opportunity to choose the birth control and STI prevention methods that are right for them.
The pill and other hormone-altering prophylactics, though very effective (for unwanted pregnancies, not STIs) are not for everyone. Perhaps you're sick of the headaches, weight gain, breast tenderness and mood changes sometimes associated with the traditional contraceptive pill. Possibly you want a new option for sex during your period. Or you're sexually active with casual partners and want to be as safe as possible by putting your own protection first. Maybe you want to literally take condom use into your own hands, rather than relying on a male partners' correct application and use of one.
Female condoms are now referred to by health professionals as "internal condoms". They can be used for both vaginal and anal sex. There are many reasons to use them, least not as they give all control and power to women. They don't affect the body's natural hormone balance. They prevent cross-contamination. They can also be a good compromise for men who experience loss of sensitivity with a male condom.
Internal condoms work similarly to male (external) condoms: they create a physical barrier and receptacle for all bodily fluids. Essentially they're creating a lining to ensure nothing comes into direct contact with your body. They can also be made from thin polyurethane (which is twice as strong as the latex used for men's condoms), which is ideal for those with latex allergies.
How do you use an internal condom in? They don't look terribly dissimilar to a large male condom. One consists of two soft rings (with a tube for the penis connecting them) with one end open and one end closed. You bend or fold the closed-end ring so it's easy to insert, and the other ring remains on the outside and fits flush against the relevant orifice. Once complete, you have internal protection that will last up to eight hours (meaning these condoms can be put in place before a date or going out, you don't have to fumble around with it immediately before sex).
Internal condoms are 95 per cent effective, compared to external condoms which are 98 per cent effective if used correctly. No contraception is fail-proof, and just like traditional condoms, there's still the risk of breakages.
Also akin to the use of other condoms, users seem to be divided about them. I've scoured internet forums and found that for a lot of women, they're just too weird. They dislike the logistics of putting them in. Others say they take some time to get used to. Some people report they are wildly better than male condoms because they don't affect erections and staying hard. Some women say they made no difference to sexual sensation, while others are bothered by the plastic bag-like sound they can make during penetration.
None of this is a reason not to try internal condoms, because – as I said in the beginning – sexual liberation is about finding out what's right for an individual. They are about $3 per condom from Family Planning so they're more expensive than male condoms, thus they come with budgetary concerns too. While they have their downsides, so do all forms of protection, which is why people sometimes just don't use it. If you give internal condoms a go, however, you might find they are the best option for you.