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Here's What You Need To Know About The Internal Condom

Looks like a jellyfish, works like birth control.

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The internal condom is something of a mythical creature in the land of birth control.

Instagram: @timwolfer / Via instagram.com

You've probably heard about it — maybe you even remember seeing it once — but you're not really sure what it is or even where to find it.

The female condom (FC2), or internal condom, is a non-hormonal barrier method of birth control. But instead of going on a penis, it goes in a vagina, which is why it's also sometimes referred to as an internal condom. For more information, BuzzFeed Health spoke with two experts who could demystify this lesser-known contraceptive:

* Dr. Harry Fisch, clinical professor of urology and reproductive medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College, and chief corporate officer of Veru Healthcare, which distributes FC2

* Dr. Lauren Streicher, associate clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine

1. It's free with a prescription from your doctor.

Universal Pictures

Up until the past few months, the internal condom lived on store shelves, usually right next to the male condoms. But it was difficult to get shelf space and secure the product in every outlet, Fisch tells BuzzFeed Health. Plus, the internal condoms came in three-packs, making them more expensive than a big box of male condoms.

Recently, Veru Healthcare moved FC2 behind the counter, where it's available in packs of 12 with a prescription from your provider. Under the Affordable Care Act, insurance plans must cover at least one form of contraception from each FDA-approved method at no cost. And since FC2 is the only FDA-approved internal condom, it will be free with a prescription from your doctor. There are a few exceptions to this, which you can read more about here.

2. But you don't necessarily need a prescription — or insurance — to get it.

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According to Fisch, there will soon be a way to order FC2 directly from their website at about $1.60 each if you're uninsured or unable to get a prescription. You can also find them for free at many local health centers, said Fisch.

3. It goes inside and outside of the vagina.

fc2.us.com

The internal condom basically looks like an oversized male condom, with a ring at each end. The inner ring is made of polyurethane and is there to help you push it back into the vagina so it stays in place during sex. The outer ring actually stays outside of the vagina, covering the vulva.

The condom itself is longer and looser than a male condom, since it's designed to feel and function almost like a second skin. So you might be a little shocked at how roomy it looks when you first take it out of the package.

"It's kind of like a vagina in that a vagina expands," Streicher told BuzzFeed Health. "A vagina has the capability to accommodate a short penis, a long penis, a thin penis, and a thick penis. This material has the ability to expand to accommodate, and because of that you need to have enough there."

4. Because it reduces skin-to-contact, it might also provide greater protection against herpes and HPV.

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That outer ring covers more surface area than a male condom, meaning there's less skin-to-skin genital contact during sex. While this hasn't been evaluated in clinical studies, Fisch and Streicher said this could reduce the risk of transmitting skin-to-skin STIs like herpes or HPV, which male condoms don't fully protect against.

5. Internal condoms are latex-free.

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This is a huge benefit for people with latex allergies, or just anyone who hates the feel of latex. The internal condom is made of nitrile, which is the same material used for surgical gloves.

"As a surgeon, I can tell you one of the things surgeons require is to be able to feel," says Streicher. "Surgical gloves have been designed with that in mind. They're not going to break, but you're going to be able to feel through it. You're not going to lose the sensation."

Another bonus: nitrile is known to transfer heat better than latex, so it might feel more ~natural~ than sex with a latex condom.

6. It offers about the same pregnancy protection as a male condom.

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Before we get into the numbers, it's helpful to understand that birth control effectiveness is measured in terms of failure rates, or the percentage of people who get pregnant within the first year of using this method.

Internal condoms have a 5% failure rate with perfect use (using it consistently and correctly every single time), making them 95% effective. In contrast, male condoms have a perfect use failure rate of 2%, making them 98% effective.

The failure rate for both male and female condoms goes up when you also include people who used the method inconsistently or incorrectly (referred to as "typical use"). Internal condoms have a typical use failure rate of 21%, while male condoms have a typical use failure rate of 18%.

The effectiveness of FC2 is actually taken from research on the effectiveness of its predecessor, FC1 (the original internal condom approved in 1993). Since the FC2 is an improved version of FC1 (made of nitrile instead of polyurethane), no further FDA studies were required, said Fisch. However, a study comparing FC1 and FC2 found they had comparable failure rates.

7. Experts say it takes a few tries to really get the hang of it.

FOX

This isn't something you should break out for the first time right before you have sex. It takes a little bit of practice, and when it comes to pregnancy and STI protection you don't want to just wing it.

Streicher recommends inserting it once or twice on your own to get used to it. If you've ever used a menstrual cup or a NuvaRing, this should feel pretty familiar. Fortunately, if you're getting the internal condom for free, you don't have to worry about wasting a few while you figure it out.

Here's a step-by-step guide to inserting the internal condom.

8. It comes pre-lubricated with a silicone-based lube, but you can also use oil-based lubes with it.

vevo.com

As soon as you open the internal condom you'll notice that it's pretty well lubed-up. But if you're someone who likes using coconut oil or another oil-based lube in bed, you're free to do that with internal condoms, too.

That's a pretty cool bonus, since you can't use oil-based lubes with latex condoms, as it causes them to break down and become less effective.

9. When the penis first enters the vagina, you'll need to hold that outer ring in place.

fc2.us.com

This makes sure that the outer ring doesn't accidentally get pushed into the vagina, where it won't be as effective, on the first thrust. Streicher suggests gently holding the outer ring in place when the penis first enters the vagina, just to make sure it's comfortable and in the right spot. After that, you can go hands-free.

If at any point the internal condom gets pushed into the vagina, gets pushed to the side, or slips out, stop what you're doing and use a new one. Keep in mind that any mishap may reduce its effectiveness (in the same way that a male condom that breaks/slips off/gets lost inside the vagina would be less effective). If there's a chance that any semen got into your vagina, you may want to ask your doctor or pharmacist about emergency contraception.

10. It's possible it could help with sexual functioning for both partners.

FOX / Via instagram.com

Unlike the male condom, the internal condom is not dictated by an erection. While the penis needs to be erect before you put on a male condom, you and your partner can be at any stage of sex when you insert an internal condom. You could even put it in before sex (though we're not sure why you'd want to).

This means that if someone has a hard time maintaining an erection when they put on a condom, they might not have an issue with the internal condom. Plus, there's less pressure on the person with the penis if they do lose their erection at some point, because you don't have to worry about the condom slipping off.

And remember that outer ring? Streicher says that some people might get some added stimulation from the ring rubbing against their clitoris during sex.

11. It can also be used as a barrier during oral sex.

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If dental dams aren't your thing (again, latex), you can use the internal condom as a barrier during oral sex, says Streicher. This can help protect against STI transmission, and it might make the giver or receiver feel a little more comfortable.

12. And because it's made specifically for vaginas, it might help someone feel safer and more empowered when it comes to the condom conversation.

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If you have a vagina, you've probably had a condom negotiation at some point in your sex life when, for whatever reason, someone didn't want to use one. For the record, anyone who refuses to do something that will make you feel safe and comfortable during sex probably doesn't deserve to have to sex with you.

That said, the internal condom might make the whole condom negotiation thing easier. For instance:

Penis owner: "I don't have a condom. Let's just do it anyway."

Vagina owner: "I have one! It goes in me but whatever it's fine."

Penis owner: "I can't have sex with a condom. I'll immediately lose my erection."

Vagina owner: "No worries, I have an internal condom. It goes in me, not on you, so you'll probably be fine."

Penis owner: "I'm allergic to latex."

Vagina owner: "Interesting! I have an internal condom, though. It's latex-free."

Penis owner: "Condoms never fit me."

Vagina owner: *attempts to refrain from eye rolling* "I have an internal condom. You'll fit."

13. But, OK, there's no denying that it looks really freaking weird.

Lalocracio / Getty Images

Is it a plastic bag? Is it an elephant condom? Is it one of those bags you stick your wet umbrella in when you go in a department store? What is happening?

They're super weird. But it's not like the male condom is this glamorous accessory that everyone can't wait to show off. That skin-tight penis sleeve is just as awkward. Contraception doesn't have to be sexy and sleek — it just has to be something that works and that feels good. And in that case, the more options the better.

Still wondering what it feels like? We asked two couples to try it out a few times and tell us what they thought. Watch it here:

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UPDATE

This post has been updated to use a more inclusive term for the FC2 condom.

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