The female condom is making a comeback

SOPHIE COUSINS
Last updated 11:54 26/03/2014
Woman

AN ALTERNATIVE: The female condom has been unfairly judged without women and men even trying it.

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Last night I turned to my boyfriend to ask him how he felt about the female condom.

Before he could even muster the words to ask what the heck it was and how it worked, I started on my spiel: "Don't be mean about it, people mock it and compare it to a jellyfish and a colostomy bag..."

Before I could continue, he turned to me and said: "Soph, the condom doesn't have feelings."

And yes, he's right. The condom doesn't have feelings but I do feel like it has been unfairly judged without women and men even trying it.

And I mean, how sick are you of men complaining about wearing a condom? Complaining that it ruins the moment, that sex doesn't feel as good, blah blah blah. Snore.

And when you glare at him and insist he wears one, he looks at you in horror, like he can't believe you're asking him to complete such an insidious and strenuous task. I'm obviously not speaking for the entire male species here but too often women have been put in these situations and made to feel uncomfortable.

When the female condom was introduced in the US more than two decades ago, it was hailed a game-changer.

The condom, a polyurethane pouch inserted into the vagina before sex, would protect women from sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and becoming pregnant - with a high success rate. Women wouldn't have to convince men to wear condoms any longer. In theory, it sounded ideal.

But years on, the apparent game-changer hasn't won many games.

People mocked it and called it funny names, the media laughed at it, women said it was uncomfortable and difficult to master, men complained it was aesthetically unappealing and it was damn expensive, at about $5 a pop. Wow, for that price you'd want to be having damn good sex.

And the numbers reflected its unpopularity. Today, less than 2 per cent of condoms distributed around the world are the female kind.

But it looks like the female condom is back.

New and improved, more-user friendly and cheaper products have begun to pop up on the market, in a move that sexual health experts and researchers hope will lead to a female condom breakthrough.

One of these products is the Woman's Condom (it took the researchers a long time to come up with that name), developed by PATH, an international non-profit organisation, which aims to improve health in low resource settings.

"As we started to research the problem, we realised that women wanted a female condom that was easier to insert, use and remove; that was more stable, so they didn't have to worry that it would be dislodged or move out of place during use; that was more comfortable for both partners; and that interfered less with sensation," PATH wrote about the product.

A series of successful clinical trials around the world means that it is currently under review by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). Approval is expected some time this year.

At the same time, other new products have hit the shelves, such as the Cupid, which is made of latex and has a sponge for insertion. It received clearance from UNFPA last year and is on sale in some Asian, South American and African countries. Then there's also the Phoenurse, which comes with an optional insertion stick.

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But with all these fancy new products about, is the female condom going to catch on second time around?

"I don't know if we will have a breakthrough, but I hope so," Veronica Arreola, assistant director of the centre for research on women and gender at the University of Illinois in Chicago, said.

"I think the female condom needs more positive marketing. I still hear and read women talking about it as uncomfortable. But as with anything new, especially a device we insert into our bodies, it takes time to get the hang of it. The benefits are great because you can insert it before the romance starts. No need to stop the moment to protect against pregnancy and STIs."

So rather than labelling it as "ew" and comparing it to a jellyfish, perhaps we should not be so quick to judge the potential of it and see it as an incredible source of power and agency for women.

There is no doubt female condoms could be a saviour for women whose sexual partners refuse to wear a condom.

The female condom does not demand that women take on the onus of wearing protection; rather it serves to empower women and enable them to have more control over safe sex and their bodies.

- Daily Life

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