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What is an internal condom (also known as a “female condom”) and how does it work?

An internal  condom is a pouch made of nitrile that is worn internally—inside of the vagina during vaginal sex or inside of the anus during anal sex.

When worn inside the vagina, an internal condom can prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). It has a ring on each end with one end open and the other end closed, and the ends are connected by a condom-shaped tube. The closed end with the smaller ring is inserted into the vagina and fits around the cervix, which is the lower part of the uterus. The wider ring stays just outside the vaginal opening. This is where the penis is inserted during vaginal intercourse.

To insert this condom anally, remove the smaller ring from the closed end of the condom, place the condom over the erect penis and insert the penis inside the anus during anal sex. The wider  ring stays just outside the anal opening.

Internal condoms can only be used once. Never use an internal condom and an external (or “male”) condom together. They could rub together and break, and you’ll end up with no protection.

When used perfectly during penile-vaginal sex, an internal condom prevents pregnancy about 95 percent of the time. The typical use rate is a lot lower—79 percent—because people don’t always use them correctly.

Just like external condoms, internal condoms only prevent the transmission of STDs that are passed through body fluids—HIV, gonorrhea, chlamydia and syphilis. Some STDs, like herpes and some strains of HPV, are spread through skin-to-skin contact. Condoms may not cover areas of the skin that are infected, such as the scrotum, labia or even the inside of the thigh. So condoms—both types—may not protect against these kinds of infections.

If you ask users of internal condoms what they think of them, you get a range of opinions. Some people say the internal condom stimulates the clitoris, which can increase pleasure during intercourse. Others say it slips or is uncomfortable during sex if the rings rub or pull against the penis or vagina.

Internal condoms are sold in drugstores and grocery stores without a prescription. They cost about three dollars each. They are also often available at health care centers and clinics, such as Planned Parenthood.

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