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Female condoms are a relatively new barrier method of birth control used by women to lessen their chances of getting pregnant and to reduce risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). The condom can be in place for up to eight hours prior to sexual contact, which many couples feel adds to the spontaneity of their sex life. Female condoms have also become a popular choice in third world countries where condom compliance among men is low.
Female condoms are long polyurethane devices with a flexible rings at either end. One ring is closed while the other remains open. The closed ring is inserted into the vagina, while the open ring covers the exterior of the vagina. They may be lubricated, or can be used with oil-based lubricants. The female condom is only intended for one-time use and should be discarded after intercourse.
Female condoms are certainly rarer than male condoms, and are more expensive. A single condom may cost anywhere from 3-7 US Dollars (USD), while a single male condom can be priced at less than one US dollar. Because of their expense, they are far less popular in developed countries like the US. Some organizations, like Planned Parenthood do distribute free female condoms to those who use their services.
As birth control, female condoms are much less effective than male condoms, and are particularly less effective than birth control methods like birth control pills. They are about 79% effective in preventing pregnancy, as compared to the 98% effectiveness rate of birth control pills, or the 85% effectiveness of male condoms.
However, for disease prevention, female condoms do prove as effective in preventing STDs, as do male condoms. Though it seems to make sense to double up on protection by using both a female condom and a male one, this is in fact riskier. Friction applied to the material of both condoms can actually cause both to break. Thus partners should choose which partner will use a condom.
Placing the female condom can be problematic for some women, and may require a little training from a gynecologist or nurse. Improperly placed female condoms can provide little protection against pregnancy or STDs. Further, neither female condoms nor male condoms should be understood as complete protection against pregnancy or contraction of an STD. Any sexual intercourse risks pregnancy and should be undertaken with knowledge and due caution.