Growing call for condoms for the women

MICHELLE DUFF
Last updated 05:00 08/03/2014

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The female condom was a flop upon invention, but a campaign to introduce a new version here is gaining traction.

The Femidom, widely derided after being unveiled worldwide in the early 1990s, has been redesigned and is being lauded by health advocates as a strong contraceptive option.

It cannot currently be legally supplied here - but with Medsafe set to recommend the next-generation Femidom be given the tick, Health Minister Tony Ryall could approve its use by the end of the year.

The only female condom currently approved in New Zealand is the original FC1 condom, which was revealed in 1993 to harsh criticism.

It was slated as unwieldy, and the polyurethane meant it rustled during sex.

It was briefly available here through Family Planning.

"No-one was buying it because it made a squeaky noise and it was $5 a condom, which was beyond everyone's reach really," Positive Women national coordinator Jane Bruning said.

Positive Women Inc is behind the push to get the upgraded FC2 female condom on shelves, saying it is an easy-to-use, effective barrier against pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Approved in the United States in 2009, it has been adopted in 143 countries worldwide. "There has been a revival," she said.

Positive Women is petitioning Parliament to make the condom available and accessible in New Zealand, and fully subsidised for those with medical conditions such as HIV.

Labour MP Carol Beaumont, who supports the petition, said she would present it to Parliament.

Positive Women was importing the FC2 condom from Australia until 2012, when Medsafe warned it was illegal. The condoms are made of synthetic latex, which did not have Medsafe approval.

A 2013 study published in international medical journal The Lancet said increased contraceptive choice for women is associated with more uptake and better health outcomes.

Family Planning national medical adviser Dr Christine Roke said it was important woman were given the choice.

"It's not used by a large number of women, but it's the one thing that women can use themselves to prevent STIs. It puts the control back into the woman's hands."

While it was not "the most beautiful thing you've ever seen", it was fairly easy to use. "For women who can't rely on their partner or want to be quite sure that they're protected, it is the way to go."

New Zealand AIDS Foundation executive director Shaun Robinson said it was another important tool to combat the spread of HIV.

"It empowers women to take more control of their own sexual health. The key thing about this condom is you don't need to negotiate its use, women can just use it."

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The Femidom - a brief history

1993: The female condom - pictured right - is invented. Initially hailed as a game-changer, the FC1 was a polyurethane pouch with a flexible ring at each end to keep it in place. But it did not sit well in the public psyche, and was likened to "a plastic bag with the erotic appeal of a jellyfish". The prophylactic was also compared to Edvard Munch's The Scream.

1996: Manufacturer the Female Health Company begins to work with the public health sector, with buy-in from the United Nations Population Fund and distribution of the condom to many developing countries.

2009: The FC2 is developed. Made of nitrile, which is also used to make medical gloves, it is less noisy and more streamlined than the original.

2013: Several new female condoms are in development. These include the Woman's Condom, with a dissolving capsule applicator; Cupid, with a ring-shaped foam sponge for stability; and the Origami Condom, which folds out like an accordion when pushed into the vagina. Made of silicon, the Origami is reusable and can be washed in a dishwasher.

- The Dominion Post

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