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A Female Condom?

A Female Condom?

Imagine a product for women that prevents HIV-AIDS and other sexually-transmitted diseases as well as pregnancy. That a woman can pick up at the drugstore, no prescription needed, and insert up to eight hours before intercourse.

Impossible? Not at all. It’s called the female condom, or FC1, a soft, transparent sheath that a woman inserts into her vagina. It is available at health clinics and some doctors’ offices, as well as some drugstores and drugstore websites.*

You would think that girls and women would be stockpiling it. In fact they are in Africa, where last year, 45 million were distributed. Not so, however, in the U.S., where female condoms make up only a tiny percentage of contraception sales.

Why the lack of interest here? FC developer Mary Ann Leeper suspects part of the reason is that American men are more likely than African men to use condoms – thus women in the U.S. aren’t as likely as African women to think they’re at risk of contracting an STI or getting pregnant.

Also, until now, the cost of a female condom, formerly anywhere from $2 to $5, was considerably higher than the cost of the male condom. The second generation female condom (FC2), to be distributed nationwide over the next few months, is considerably cheaper.

I suspect that the biggest reason why more FCs aren’t sold is that  – like the women who could use them – those who sell them don’t know much about them. I recently interviewed female university students for a podcast on the female condom and one woman seemed to speak for the group when she said, “I had great sex ed. all through high school and I was never really told a lot about it and I don’t think my mom knows a lot about it and it’s just not something that people know a lot about…If we were educated it might be more popular…”

That’s what Leeper and others at The Female Health Company, which makes the female condom, are hoping as they begin a major push this fall to teach health professionals about its possibilities in cities such as Atlanta, New York and Washington, D.C. The company already provides technical support to public health programs in other countries, which helps account for its success overseas.

“For more than 20 years, we have believed…in the principle of doing well by doing good,” Leeper says. This past July, Fortune magazine rated the company first among emerging healthcare companies.

*Note: An alternative to the FC1/2, the VA w.o.w. Condom Feminine (“VA” for short) is available in a number of countries, but has not yet been approved by the United States FDA.

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author Laura Sessions Stepp is Senior Media Fellow at The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, where she hosts a podcast for The Campaign’s new website, sexreally.com. SexReally seeks to foster conversations about relationships and sex while addressing gaps in people’s knowledge about fertility and contraceptive use through polling, videos, and other content.

For more about Mary Ann Leeper and the female condom, visit www.sexreally.com.

Read more: Gynecology, Health, Love, Sex, Women's Health, , , , , ,

By Laura Sessions Stepp

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41 comments

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10:30AM PDT on Jul 14, 2012

Thank you for sharing.

8:31AM PDT on Mar 11, 2012


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1:57AM PDT on Oct 29, 2011

Thanks for sharing this information....very interesting ..

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3:03AM PDT on May 29, 2011

Old article, but still news to me. Interesting.

12:04PM PDT on Apr 6, 2010

I guess it all depends on how women feel with it inside them.

3:58AM PDT on Apr 5, 2010

Only wen people start using it,can we comment upon it...

11:04AM PDT on Apr 3, 2010

i think it's a little strange

7:03AM PDT on Apr 2, 2010

it makes sense

1:58AM PST on Feb 5, 2010

The female condom is like the electric car. It makes perfect sense, the technology is ready to go, but the powers-that-be refuse to market it. Why oil companies would resist the electric car is clear, though, while the reasons for resisting the female condom are more complex. Clearly, it is caught up in assumptions about female sexuality and power — but that would never be stated so bluntly.

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1:33PM PDT on Oct 4, 2009

the first time I ever heard of vaginal condoms I was channel surfing and some lady on the Maury show was telling her sons g/f she needed to use them ... it was random and strange . Not the condoms the show . Since then I've only seen them in ads for local get-in-get-out type stores when they're on sale . So yes we definately need to know more about them.

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