How to Choose and Use Female Catheters - Express Medical Supply

Female catheters are small tubes specifically designed for draining urine from the female urethra. These catheters are compact and ideal for women on-the-go.


Female catheters are available in several varieties, including straight-tip, pre-lubricated, and pocket catheters. Choosing one that best fits your body can be overwhelming and confusing. Having the right information, however, can help you clarify and streamline the process.


This product guide will cover:

  • What Are the Different Types of Female Catheters?

  • Can a Woman Use a Male Catheter?

  • How to Use a Female Catheter

  • Is It Painful to Self-Catheterize?

  • What Female Catheter Problems Might You Experience?

  • When to Call Your Doctor

What Are the Different Types of Female Catheters?

A female catheter is a type of intermittent catheter. Intermittent self-catheterization (ISC) is the process of inserting and removing a urinary catheter to empty the bladder at regular intervals throughout the day. ISC may be required due to urinary retention, incontinence, and spinal cord injuries.


Intermittent catheters are small flexible tubes used to drain urine from the bladder. They are typically inserted through a urethra or a stoma. Intermittent catheters are designed for single-use only and are usually made of red rubber latex, PVC, or silicone.


As the female urethra is only a few inches long, female intermittent catheters are significantly shorter than standard 16-inch catheters, varying between 5 and 8 inches in length.


When choosing a female catheter, there are quite a few options, including straight, hydrophilic, closed-system, and compact catheters.

Straight Tip Female Length Catheters

Straight tip catheters are considered the standard in-and-out catheter. Most come uncoated, so to  ensure comfortable insertion, you will need to manually lubricate the device with a sterile lubricating jelly. This will help to reduce friction by creating a slick surface.

Hydrophilic Female Length Catheters

Hydrophilic catheters are specially designed with a lubricated surface. The lubricated coating is activated with water or sterile saline. These products are convenient, easy to handle, and do not require a separate lubricant.

Closed System Female Length Catheters

A closed-system catheter is pre-lubricated and fast to use. Unlike other types of catheters, closed-system catheters are placed inside of a collection bag. Urine drains directly into the bag, rather than a toilet or a separate container.


The device can be used without having to touch the catheter, which significantly reduces the risk of infection.

Compact Catheters

Compact (or pocket) catheters are especially designed to be small and easy to carry. They are pre-lubricated and offer comfort, safety, and discretion on the go.


Two of the most popular pocket catheters are the Coloplast SpeediCath Compact Plus and Hollister VaPro Plus Pocket. Both products are available in a variety of sizes and feature designs that are not only discreet, but also easy to use and dispose of.

Female Catheter Sizing

A female catheter is typically between 5 and 8 inches long, however, intermittent catheters often have their diameters measured in French sizes. One French unit (Fr) equals 0.013 inches or 0.33mm.


In general, female intermittent catheters fall in the 8Fr to 16Fr range. The higher this number, the larger the catheter’s diameter.

Can a Woman Use a Male Catheter?

The primary difference between male and female catheters is the length of the device. As the urethra in women is considerably shorter, female catheters are also shorter.


Women can make use of both female-size and longer (male-sized) catheters. Standard and male-length catheters are typically around 16 inches long. For some women, this length might provide easier access to the urethral opening.


While catheter length depends more or less on a female patient’s personal preference, men should not use female intermittent catheters. Because of the difference in urethral lengths, a female-size catheter would not be able to reach the bladder in men.

How to Use a Female Catheter

Prior to using any female catheter, read the manufacturer’s instructions carefully and contact your treating physician or nurse with any questions.


Before you self-catheterize, ensure that you have all the necessary supplies on hand. For most women, these include the catheter, sterile lubricating jelly, cleaning wipe/towelette, and a container to collect the urine if a toilet is not available.


Here are some simple steps that will help make the self-catheterization process much easier:


  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water. If you prefer, you may also use disposable gloves.


  • Ensure that your genital area is clean and dry. You can clean your labia using a baby wipe or antiseptic towelette.


  • Peel back the paper side of the catheter packet without touching the catheter.


  • If you are using a non-lubricated catheter, apply lubricating jelly to the top 2 inches of the device.


  • Gently fold back the labia and locate the urethral opening (You may also use a mirror to help with this process).


  • Holding your labia with one hand, use your other hand to gently slide the catheter up into the urethra until urine begins to flow.


  • Let the urine drain into the toilet or container.


  • Once the urine flow has stopped, place a finger over the end of the tube and remove the catheter.


  • You can dispose of the used catheter in the normal trash. Never flush the device down the toilet.


It is important to never force the catheter if it feels stuck. Instead, remove the device, take a few deep breaths, and try again.

Is It Painful to Self Catheterize?

At the start, self-catheterization may cause slight pain. If you experience discomfort while inserting your catheter, take some time to relax before trying again.


For some people, the entire process of self-catheterization may be uncomfortable and painful. Trying different products and techniques, however, often helps to reduce discomfort.

What Female Catheter Problems You May Have

Though the right product and technique can make self-catheterization more comfortable, there are still a few problems that can occur during the process.

No Urine Flow from the Catheter

A lack of urine flow is one of the most common complaints from new female intermittent catheters. Use a magnifying mirror to ensure your catheter is inserted in your urethra and not in the vagina.


If you inserted the catheter in the vagina, simply remove it and insert a new, clean catheter into the urethral opening. If the catheter is in the urethra but there is still no urine production, gently push the tube further up into the urethral opening.

Urine Leaks

Urine leaks are another frequent issue. If you notice urine leaks during intercourse or between catheterizations, it may simply come down to drinking extra liquids. Urine leaks, however, can also be a sign of a bladder infection.


If you suspect an infection, contact your treating physician as soon as possible.


To avoid urine leaks during sexual activity, try to limit your amount of liquids and catheterize before intercourse.

Blood in the Urine or on the Catheter

Blood in the urine when self-cathing is not an uncommon symptom. If you notice blood on the catheter, this may indicate that your urethra is too dry. Use more lubricating jelly to help prevent friction and irritation.


Blood in the urine could be a sign of a urinary tract infection (UTI), which should be reported to your doctor.


If you experience heavy bleeding – or if you notice blood clots – seek medical help right away.

When to Call Your Doctor

Intermittent catheters give you the opportunity to control your bladder. It is crucial, however, to monitor for certains signs and symptoms. Always notify your doctor if you notice that your urine is cloudy, has a strong odor, and/or appears pink or red. Take notice of any burning sensation or pain in your abdomen, urethra, or bladder, all signs of a UTI.

Buying the Right Female Catheter

Female intermittent catheters allow you to control your bladder without needing a catheter permanently in your bladder. Self-catheterization also keeps the bladder from stretching and lowers the chances of infection.


Whether you prefer the classic straight or pre-lubricated version, Express Medical Supply offers the widest variety of female catheters and medical supplies. Find the products that suit you best and have them quickly and discreetly delivered to your doorstep.



Learn more about the different types of catheters and self-cathing accessories in our blog!


Loading