My boyfriend and I always use condoms, but I’m still worried about STIs and want more control over my method. What’s the deal with female condoms? Will I be extra protected if I wear one, too?

Great question. First of all, if you’re having a lot of anxiety about STIs despite your committed relationship with condoms, it’s worth thinking about the root of some of your worries. It can be hard to enjoy your sexual relationship if you’re constantly preoccupied by fears about STIs, and an open conversation with both your boyfriend and your medical provider can help address your concerns.

Female (or internal) condoms are a great option for people who want to take charge of their sexual health. Internal condoms haven’t (yet!) enjoyed the same popularity as their external counterparts, but they’re definitely worth a shot for a hormone-free method that provides dual protection from pregnancy and STIs.

The internal condom is a pouch made out of synthetic nitrile (to make it less noisy, which was a common complaint with earlier versions), and is about six inches long with a flexible ring on each end. The ring at the closed end of the pouch gets inserted into the vagina, and the other ring remains outside. You insert the internal condom inside the vagina much like you would a tampon. It can be a little challenging at first, so try practicing beforehand to make sure you’ve got the hang of it. You can insert the internal condom up to 8 hours BEFORE things get heated if you want to be super-prepared!

Some people prefer to wear an internal condom because it gives them more control over their protection method, and because they can be inserted a significant amount of time before sex so you don’t have to worry about protection in the heat of the moment. Internal condoms don’t constrict the penis, and some users find that the outer ring rubs against their clitoris, making sex more pleasurable for both partners! Internal condoms are also safe for those with latex allergies. They provide enhanced protection against STIs that are transmitted through skin-to-skin contact, like HPV and herpes.

It’s important to be aware that the rates of contraceptive failure for internal condoms are slightly higher than for external (male) condoms, especially for typical use. This can be addressed by paying careful attention to the directions when inserting the condom and making sure that it is worn correctly.

If you’re looking for a hormone-free and easily-reversible method of birth control that also provides protection against STIs, the internal condom sounds perfect for you! You can get them at some drugstores, online, and from free clinics. HOWEVER—It’s a common myth that “doubling up” (using an internal and external condom simultaneously) provides enhanced protection. This is not true! The two condoms rub together to create friction that actually decreases the effectiveness of both methods. Although your condom enthusiasm is admirable, stick to one type at a time!