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What’s the Deal With Female Condoms?

What’s the Deal With Female Condoms?

CNN had a really fascinating article on Monday about the female condom, which has never seemed to catch on.  In fact, they seem downright unpopular; as the author, Madison Park, observes, they’ve been called “noisy, unwieldy, and like a plastic bag.”  Since they were approved back in 1993, a range of factors from their expense (they cost about $4 each, as opposed to male latex condoms, which range from around $0.50 to $1) to simple unfamiliarity have kept the female condom from achieving anywhere near the popularity of their male counterpart.  But major health campaigns in New York, Chicago and Washington, DC are trying to change that.

Ximena Ramirez wrote a piece a few months ago about the DC campaign, where female condoms were actually given away for free all over the city.  Other health campaigns have begun training sessions on how to use them, focusing their endeavors around a new version of the female condom, which was approved by the FDA in 2009.  This new contraceptive looks like a “long sheath with two soft rings at each end. One ring must be pushed with a finger into the vagina, much like a tampon. The other ring remains outside the body.”  It’s made with non-latex materials and, activsts claim, is nowhere near as difficult to insert as some people fear.

“Some male partners like the extra movement they get” with a female condom, Carol Queen, the legendary sex-positive activist.  But the condom could also get twisted, she explained.  Queen, who is a staff sexologist at Good Vibrations in California, says that sales of female condoms have been up in the past few years.

Interestingly, there has been a similar push for female condoms in India, also as a way to curb the spread of HIV in women.  Officials claim that the pilot program, which provided inexpensive female condoms to sex workers in various provinces, showed their consistent use.  Proponents cited the fact that the female condom, as the only female-initiated barrier method, protected women, particularly sex workers, whose partners refused to use a condom.

It’s undeniable that having one more option for female health and safety during sex is a good thing.  And it does seem odd that their male counterpart is so popular, while the birth control pill serves as the major contraceptive for women, despite the fact that it does not protect against STIs and, without insurance, can be significantly more expensive. 

The question is whether we can be educated to recognize the female condom as a viable option – and to get over our discomfort with its unfamiliarity.  I hope we can, but I think an important step will be for the condoms to drop in price.  Sadly, one of the most important ways for them to compete will be economically.  But it’s a crucial question of equity – women should have a barrier method available to them, and along with increased education about its merits, the contraceptive itself should be both affordable and accessible.

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Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

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108 comments

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2:42AM PDT on Oct 23, 2010

I have heard about this but have never seen or used it so I am assuming it is a one time use item (like the male condom) so why the big difference in price? Also, it is non-latex - as such, how much protection does that offer to HIV and other STDs?

11:27PM PDT on Aug 13, 2010

I would try it out but honestly.. I have never seen them in the store.... We all need to take care of ourselves as women we need to be more independent and not depend so much on the man... I will buy one!! Thnx!

10:17PM PDT on Aug 11, 2010

Ready to try the new and improved

10:58AM PDT on Aug 11, 2010

Uh, why? Women can buy condoms just a well as men, cheaper and more acceptable but then they have to insist on their use. Why do we need a special one? If a man refuses to use a condom why would he agree to this one?

9:56AM PDT on Aug 11, 2010

I've never seen them for sale but I'd be willing to give them a try

8:33PM PDT on Aug 10, 2010

very strange

5:22AM PDT on Aug 10, 2010

mhm...

9:50PM PDT on Aug 9, 2010

It might be a good idea to use both types of condoms.

9:44AM PDT on Aug 9, 2010

i am going to give a copy of this article to our school nurse, because she never mentions the female condom to our kids when we have "the boy to man and girl to woman-talk"

9:12AM PDT on Aug 9, 2010

I didn't know that the female condom was on the market. I have never seen them but I will look for them next time at the drug store. I would think that a women would want to have least one in case of an emergency. This is much better than no protection.

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