Female Condoms: Weird or Wonderful?

Crossposted on Amplify

Female condom: mythical creature or pragmatic contraceptive?  Despite female condoms’ presence on the market for over fifteen years, they retain an intimidating aura for many sexually active women, especially teenagers.  After reading today that a new version of the female condom will come up for FDA review this week, I wondered: does anyone actually use female condoms?  Would girls and their partners’ my age use them if they were, as the new version, FC2 promises, as effective and as cheap as their male counterparts?  Female Health Company, the manufacturer of FC2, hopes that their new version of the female condom might appeal to women seeking greater control over their contraception who may have been unable to afford the previous, more-expensive female condoms.  A former president of Female Health Co. did admit that they “haven’t been able to market the product.”  So what’s the deal here?  Should the FC2 pass FDA panel review, will it soon become a widely used, cost-effective alternative to the mainstream male condom?  I decided to find out: I sent the following mass text message to over twenty of my friends, both sexually active and not.

“Hi i have a question for you guys. Im writing an article on female condoms: if they were as effective and as cheap as male condoms would you use them?”

Still pleased with myself for fitting my message into 160 words or less, responses started pouring in.  While some responded “sure” or “Well if i were having sex i would :),” my friends’ answers were overwhelmingly not-so-into the whole female condom idea.  Here’s a sampling of their reactions:

“It’s less normal/convenient, don’t know where to get one, uncomfortable, and too much effort.”

“Female condoms are harder to put on plus male condoms are pretty effective.”

“No. I don’t think I would.”

“No, they look scary and strange lol.”

“Prob no.”

“No I don’t think I would just because condoms for guys are easier to put on and just faster.”

“Probably not but I don’t know.”

“Uhm probably not. They seem kind of weird and more like, noticeable than regular condoms. I dunno like they might be awkward or get in the way. I wouldn’t really know tho…”

“Um probably not cause they kind of scare me haha.”

“Female condoms freak me out.”

Hmmm, not so positive.  And here’s the kicker:

“I’d probably try it out see which one I like better maybe if its better with both…”

HOLD UP.  Better with both?  Bad move.  Using two condoms is never a good idea: friction between the two condoms can cause them both to break and lose effectiveness.

But back to the topic at hand:

To get a more informed point of view, I asked the educators and the vice-president of Planned Parenthood of Southwestern Oregon what they thought of youth attitudes toward female condoms.  One educator told me that, as she displayed a female condom in a sex education class, one student exclaimed, “Is that a horse condom?!”  The Planned Parenthood staff confirmed my suspicions that the American, middle-class youth-demographic will probably not jump on the female-condom bandwagon anytime soon.  The prevalence of male condoms and the stigma stemming from who-knows-where around female condoms, paired with the comparative inconvenience of female condoms will all impair the popularity of FC2.  According to Jodi, a Planned Parenthood educator at PPSO, female condoms have been known to make a squeaking or crinkling noise during sex, and can get bunched up upon insertion in the vagina.  To prevent this, she noted, it’s helpful to put lube in the female condom first.  This seems like a lot to handle for youth ready to get it on.  But hey, maybe it’s a good thing to slow down and think a little bit. 

Whatever the case may be, Female Health Co. certainly faces many challenges, the first of which lies in passing FDA inspection.  Although the company’s goal of increasing access is a noble one, officials decided not to perform trials evaluating how effectively FC2 protects women against pregnancy and disease.  The company asserted that, since FC2 is so similar to the previous model (despite its new material and production methods), “such studies are not necessary.”  These studies in question would have cost Female Health Co. five extra years and millions of dollars before putting FC2 onto the market. 

Hmm. Maybe FC2 works well, but the lack of trials for the sake of cost-cutting sounds precarious to me, especially when my body is on the line.  I think I’ll stick with my friends on this one and wait for FC3 to come around.

Disclaimer: This post was written by a Feministing Community user and does not necessarily reflect the views of any Feministing columnist, editor, or executive director.

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