The female condom. You probably heard about it in a sex-ed class of yore, but have you ever used one? Or even seen one? Most likely not — the female condom (often called the internal condom) is pretty rare here in the United States, where most people rely on male condoms to prevent against STIs and hormonal birth control to prevent pregnancy.

Basically, a female condom is a sheath that goes inside of the vagina. It’s made of lubricated nitrile (not latex) and has a ring at either end — one ring lies against your cervix, while the other stays outside of the vulva during intercourse. It is inserted before sex (up to two hours before) and taken out afterwards. Just like a standard condom, it provides a barrier for ejaculate, so it prevents against both pregnancy and STIs. Once intercourse is over, it’s removed and thrown out. It can be used with other types of contraception, like birth control pills, but it can’t be used in conjunction with a male condom (due to risks of tearing).

Female condoms are a good barrier option for women, allowing them to take control of their sexual health without having to rely on a partner’s willingness to wear a condom. According to Planned Parenthood, the efficacy for internal condoms ranges quite a bit, depending on use. With perfect use, 5 in 100 women will get pregnant in a year. However, with non-perfect use, 21 will get pregnant (that’s less effective than regular condoms).

Female condoms are a good barrier option for women, allowing them to take control of their sexual health without having to rely on a partner’s willingness to wear a condom.

On the upside? Some users say it can enhance pleasure for both males and females. The rings are often positioned in such a way as to stimulate the clitoris and the head of the penis.

So, why are female condoms so unusual to us Americans? It’s mostly because we rarely see or hear about them as viable contraceptive options in our culture. Although they do have their benefits, they’re under the radar here, even to medical providers. Dr. Terri Vanderlinde, DO, FACOG, a gynecologist and AASECT-certified sex counselor, says female condom use is so rare that she’d never even seen one until a few years ago.

Citing cost (internal condoms are about $3.50 each) and difficulty of use (some people aren’t comfortable inserting items into their vaginas and it takes practice to learn how to do it correctly) as other reasons why they’re not utilized in the US, Dr. Vanderlinde understands why Americans prefer other forms of contraception. Still, she says female condoms can be a great “backup plan for people who can’t or won’t use external condoms.” People have hugely varying reasons for what does and doesn’t work in their sex lives — internal condoms might be the perfect choice for some.

While female condoms might seem strange to those of us in the developed world, their use can be hugely beneficial in developing countries, especially in places where there are widespread cases of AIDS and HIV. With use of female condoms, women can ensure that proper precautions are being used against both pregnancy and STIs without needing to rely on a partner to take preventative measures. The UN even considers internal condoms as one of the 13 “life-saving commodities” for women and children in the developing world.

If you want to try an internal condom, they’re actually not all that hard to come by.

If you want to try an internal condom, they’re actually not all that hard to come by. FC2 is the largest maker and retailer of female condoms, with products distributed to more than 130 countries worldwide, including the US. You can even buy them at Target. Sex shops often carry them, too, and of course, Amazon will send you female condoms right to your door.

Dr. Vanderlinde advises those interested in internal condoms to “practice, practice, practice” before using one with a partner. The insertion and removal technique can take awhile to learn. So, you want to make sure you have it down pat before anyone else’s bodily fluids (or aroused body parts) are in the mix. It may seem a little weird at first, but having one more contraceptive option in your repertoire is definitely a good thing.

Carrie Murphy is a freelance writer and doula in Albuquerque, NM. Read more on her website, carrie-murphy.com.