The original and most widely
available female condoms are made by the Female Health Company of Chicago (see www.femalehealth.com).
The original FC1 female condom – sold
as Femidom, Reality, the Care Contraceptive Sheath and Dominique
in different countries – was a soft, strong, transparent polyurethane sheath
about the same length but wider than a male condom.
An inner ring helps insertion into
the vagina and is designed to sit on the cervix like a diaphragm. An outer ring
protrudes outside the vulva, aiding removal and preventing slippage. Unlike the
male condom, it can be inserted several hours before sex and can remain safely
in place after ejaculation.
Polyurethane was used because it has
a better heat conductivity than latex rubber (so sex feels more natural), is
odourless, is less likely to cause allergic reactions and is somewhat stronger.
Unlike latex, it can be used with oil-based lubricants, though it is supplied
ready-lubricated with silicone.
The newer FC2 condom has essentially the same design but is made of a softer
nitrile rubber which is cheaper to manufacture than polyurethane. It is more
similar to the latex rubber used for male condoms, but can still be used with
oil-based lubricants. It lacks one widely disliked characteristic of the
original Femidom, that of being noisy
Since it does not fit the penis
snugly like a male condom, several men report that the Femidom is more pleasurable because it is not constricting, and
because the female condom can be inserted before sexual activity begins, may be
less of an interruption of sexual activity than the male condom.
It has been suggested that some women
(for example, sex workers) would find the female condoms an easier way of
practising safer sex, by keeping it in for a period of time. However, women who
have tried this report that it can be uncomfortable, and it is also important
to check the female condom at regular intervals for tears in the plastic. Using
a female condom on a number of occasions may present few problems with a single
sexual partner, but it is risky if used for multiple partners (e.g. for a sex
worker). There would be risks to multiple partners who came into contact with
infected semen in the female condom deposited by other men.
There are some reported problems with
using the female condom. Some women report losing the inner ring inside their
vagina whilst others fear that, because the female condom is seamed, it may be
more liable to tearing. Some cases of tearing have been noted.
Trials not sponsored by the Female
Health Company have tended to show a lower rate of acceptability. The female
condom is very visible, and many women find it unattractive because the
appliance hangs down beyond the labia. Some women experience irritation to the
vulval area because of the outer ring, which fits over the labia to hold the
device in place. Some men have found the inner ring uncomfortable as they
thrust into it – this problem can be solved by either removing the inner ring,
or inserting the female condom on the penis (rather than the woman inserting it
in the vagina). And some other sexual activities such as cunnilingus
(male-to-female oral sex) are not feasible with it in place.