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 sexually transmitted infections (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. An open conversation with both your boyfriend and your medical provider can help address your concerns.

Internal (also called “female”) condoms are a great option for anyone who wants to take charge of their sexual health.

Internal condoms haven’t (yet!) enjoyed the same popularity as their external counterparts, but they’re a great safer sex tool if you’re looking for a hormone-free method that provides protection from both pregnancy and STIs.

The internal condom is a pouch made out of synthetic nitrile. It’s about six inches long with a flexible ring on each end. For vaginal sex, insert the closed-end ring into the vagina, and leave the other ring outside of your body. It’s a lot like inserting a tampon! It can be a little challenging at first, so try practicing beforehand.

Some people prefer to wear an internal condom because it gives them more control over their protection method.

Plus, you can insert internal condoms up to 8 hours BEFORE things get heated, which means you don’t have to worry about protection in the heat of the moment. Internal condoms don’t constrict the penis, and some people 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, and provide enhanced protection against STIs that are transmitted through skin-to-skin contact, like HPV and herpes.

Keep in mind that the rates of contraceptive failure for internal condoms are slightly higher than for external (“male”) condoms. Pay careful attention to the directions when inserting the condom and double check that you’re wearing it correctly.

If you’re looking for a hormone-free 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 (often free) from many community health or family planning clinics.

HOWEVER—It’s a common myth that “doubling up” (using an internal and external condom simultaneously) provides better protection.

This is not true! The two condoms rub together to create friction that actually decreases the effectiveness of both methods, and makes it more likely that the condom will break. Although your condom enthusiasm is admirable, stick to one type at a time!

If you’re 10-22 years old in NYC, stop by the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center on E. 94th Street in Manhattan to talk to a health care provider about your sexual health, and get free, confidential STI testing and treatment. We’ll also give you free internal condoms, and show you how to use them!