The Female Condom 2: Cheaper, Thinner, and a Lot Less Squeaky

Back in March, we mentioned that the FDA had recently approved a new female condom (FC) for distribution in the U.S.
Well folks, that new female condom has officially hit U.S. markets, and is now available for our all-American consumption. The FC2 is made of a new, thinner, material, is less likely to squeak during use, and is about 30% cheaper than the original FC.
My colleague Audacia Ray has a post up on Akimbo about why this news marks exciting progress for US women’s access to safer sex materials.
Now, I know that the FC often gets a bad rap. Previous commenters have touched on some of the many criticisms it often faces- it’s not readily available, it’s too expensive, it squeaks, it looks funny, the materials’ unfamiliar, it’s uncomfortable, it’s unnatural, it’s inconvenient, it’s not effective enough, etc. And part of this criticism is understandable because the FC is a relatively new form of contraception and- let’s face it- not many of us use FCs on a regular basis, or even know someone who does. How many of us have even seen an FC for sale in a drugstore? Or seen women carrying around FCs in their wallets the way men often do with the male condom?

But Audacia also points out- and I agree- that much of the criticism surrounding female condom usage in the US mimics the criticism faced by most forms of contraception, at one point or another in their product history. When Margaret Sanger first introduced the pill, she faced all kinds of haters. Her first birth control clinic was shut down by a police raid. And we all know how successfully that whole birth control pill thing turned out. So it kinda makes you wonder- is it the female condom itself that’s drawing criticism, or is it the idea of a barrier method that’s actually conducive to increased female agency surrounding sex?
This might be one (of oh-so-many) cases in which the US is just not that culturally progressive when it comes to women’s health and rights. Much of the FC opposition is actually quite particular to the US; as we explained back in March a lot of the FC criticism is reduced or nonexistent in an international context. My colleague Jen Wilen, for example, reports that in rural, geographically isolated areas of Cameroun, the demand for FCs is so pressing that traditional healers, mostly older men, have trekked through the jungle for days to distribute them to their village women. And even though we’ve gone about 15 years here in the US without any new FC product releases, condom companies are constantly working on new FC designs in other countries. You can check out some pictures of different kinds of female condoms not available yet in the US on the IWHC Flickr photostream. I’ve never even seen a picture of most of these before, let alone caught them perched on a shelf alongside the Trojans in a US drugstore.
Which leads me back home. What have folks’ experiences been with these? Now that they’re available in the US, are you eager to run out and scoop yourself some FC2’s? For those who use FCs, do you find that they help reduce the need to negotiate condom usage with a partner?
Related Coverage: Female Condoms Actually Sort of Rock

Brooklyn, NY

Lori Adelman is Executive Director of Partnerships at Feministing, where she enjoys creating and curating content on gender, race, class, technology, and the media. Lori is also an advocacy and communications professional specializing in sexual and reproductive rights and health, and currently works in the Global Division of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. A graduate of Harvard University, she lives in Brooklyn.

Lori Adelman is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Partnerships.

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  • Comrade Kevin

    I’ve only seen ONE female condom in my life. If my girlfriend was willing to use it, we’d certainly try it out. At the moment, she feels more comfortable taking the pill. Though they are going to be available at CVS here in DC, it won’t be sold until December. My girlfriend’s reservations are that they seem like more work than they’re worth and that the effectiveness of hormonal birth control is more so than any condom.

  • a.

    I thought we were calling these the ‘receptive condom’ now. Can we please use that term instead of the ‘female condom’? In the interest of using language that will make this form of protection more accessible to people who would benefit, regardless of gender identity and body type?

  • dj_sex_ed

    Hey, if I can find them and afford them, I’m more than willing to give FCs a try. MCs are not always the most comfortable thing, and I’m eager to see if the FC is an improvement.

  • JulieSunday

    lori, just an aside, margaret sanger didn’t introduce the pill and her clinics weren’t shut down because of it. her brooklyn clinic was shut down by the cops in the 19-teens, and the method they prescribed was primarily the diaphragm. the pill wasn’t brought to market until 1960. sanger gets credit for spurring the research that led to the pill, but she didn’t introduce it.
    also, female condoms are gross. i would use one only if literally no other contraceptive method were available.
    and a, i agree that we should call them something else, especially since from what i hear it’s primarily MSM who use them anyway. but until they change the name on the box, ‘female condom’ it is.

  • heyitsmartine

    I can’t talk for the new female condom as I’ve never used it, but back when I worked at a Women’s Center I tried out the old FC a few times as people would often ask me about it.
    My issue with it? It felt like I was having sex with a grocery bag shoved into my vagina.

  • Josh Jasper

    I’ve tried the older style one. It wasn’t bad for me, as a guy, but it got pushed aside once which was worrying. I’ll settle for regular condoms. More reliable.

  • hillary_b

    i knew we were a step closer to equality when a few years ago, walking down the street, I saw on the sidewalk…a used FC!! totally gross but totally not something i ever thought i’d see. Sex litter parity!

  • TheSoyMilkConspiracy

    One upside to the female condom is it may provide more STD protection. The outside ring/”bag” section of the condom that hangs from the vagina covers more of the vulva than a male condom, possibly providing added protection against skin-to-skin STDs like genital warts and herpes.
    That being said, a condom is utterly useless if nobody is willing to use it. And the “pushed aside” complaint is common and troubling. It’s important to use lots of lube with a female condom to prevent this type of slippage from happening, no matter how wet a woman gets, because the condom is effectively providing a barrier between the penis/dildo and natural vaginal lubricants. In fact, I believe female condoms come packaged with their own individual packs of lube (or at least they used to).

  • ebsith

    I would definitely like to give female condoms a try once, if I could find them anywhere. However, whenever I have asked for “female condoms” at the pharmacy, they have pointed me to the “her pleasure” male condoms. When I tried to explain that that wasn’t what I wanted, they looked baffled and said they “didn’t have that.”
    Male condoms + the pill have been working well for me – it means not all of the birth control responsibility lies on my shoulders. So, I’m not willing to go out of my way to find a FC. I’ll use one if my local pharmacies ever decide to figure out what they are.

  • ak33yu
    I don’t know. It kind of looks like all the hassle of a diaphragm, plus your vulva will abruptly burst into bloom. Is that a Morning Glory, perhaps?
    I totally respect where they were trying to go, here, and I give it an A++ in theory, but a “Er, perhaps no” for execution.

  • pluralist

    “My issue with it? It felt like I was having sex with a grocery bag shoved into my vagina.”
    This brings up something I think it’d be interesting to explore: how do feminists approach the use of the FC/RC when it may reduce female sexual pleasure?
    I tend to scoff when I hear comments from MC/GC-users about how it’s like “taking a shower in a raincoat” or how it’s uncomfortable/weird/awkward/whathaveyou. But it seems like the use of FC/RCs may create a similar problem for females/the receiver.
    Given the long, hard fight for a woman’s right to sexual pleasure, what is the response to reducing that pleasure through FC/RC condom use? Do we go with the “suck it up!” attitude with which you usually treat giver’s concerns, do we shift the burden of condom use solely to me, or something in between?

  • analog

    I tried the older style a few times and didn’t care for it. It did get “pushed aside” easily, which completely defeats the point of using one. It was difficult to get into the right spot, I thought it looked weird, my partner and I did not care for how it felt, and it costs substantially more than a regular trojan.
    I am all for having increased birth control options, and maybe this is a great choice for some women, but I just don’t get the point. It has all of the disadvantages of male condoms and (as far as I can tell) no advantages. Someone told me that the learning curve with these things is steep, and once I got the hang of it, I would like them. But I think that is also a disadvantage to the product, who wants a birth control method that is hard to figure out?
    I do not see how this would “reduce the need to negotiate condom use.” I thought, (and my male partner agreed) that the FC provided less sensation than a standard male condom. And your partner will know that you are using one – it is clearly visible. So the standard reasons why people don’t want to use condoms (it’s messy, inconvenient, lessens sensation, it isn’t sexy, etc.) are all still there, if not more so.

  • Amanda Marcotte

    Female condoms are supposed to be a lot better for anal sex, or any situation where there’s a tight fit. That might explain some of the hostility.

  • afb1221

    I’ve also heard these called “insertive condoms”
    female condom really isn’t an accurate or appropriate name – they are useful for vaginal or anal sex (without the inner ring), and not only by females
    I don’t think we should send the message that they are limited to females, and implicitly, vaginal use only.

  • Sex Toy James

    If they’re not available cheaply in bulk packs on then I don’t think that they’re really “available to the public” yet.
    I’d be interested to give them a try. Cost is definitely an issue. $165 for a hundred pack on the current female condoms is a lot more than the $25 you’d pay for standard high quality condoms.

  • Pantheon

    How do you put it in? Do you have to use something stiff to insert it? That part seems kind of awkward, but once its there it might be good. I’ve never tried one but I wouldn’t mind seeing how it works out.

  • Elizabeth

    wait, they only just approved these in the US? seriously?
    I learned about the female condom when I was in sex ed in grade six. Is this because I’m Canadian?

  • daytrippinariel

    A new version of the female condom is now available in the United States. The old version was available before that.

  • dj_sex_ed

    Is there a corresponding alternate term for the male condom as well?

  • MaggieF

    For a while I was having trouble with chafing during intercourse, and since I can’t take chemical birth control, going bareback was out. The female condom made sex possible for me at that point, since it was a barrier between me and the friction. I remember it was sort of a pain to put in, and left my hands really oily, since the ones I used had oil-based lube, but I don’t remember any diminished sensation compared to regular condoms. Having it pushed aside was a small concern, but I’ve also had regular condoms slip off, so having to check that it was there occasionally wasn’t a change.
    I haven’t used them since, because they’re more expensive, harder to find, and less convenient to use.

  • feckless

    I believe, when it comes to contraception, there can not be enough alternatives.
    Does this one offer Aids protection on the same level a GC does?

  • Gopher

    Receptive condom sound shighly gendered and it correlates to gender stereotypes of the female (or whoever is penetrated) as the passive partner and the penetrator is the active one. I cant believe youre for that name change on a feminist site! If you dont like female condom, fine, but then create a different name-one thats not gendered.

  • GabeXVX

    I tried the FC/RC with my girlfriend not too long ago and we both agree that’s one of the least pleasing experiences we’ve had. Other than the highly awkward and lengthy insertion process, the pleasure for both of us was rather minimal.

  • Mircette

    I prefer traditional oral contraception, now it is safe.

  • vtfem

    I agree with the feeling of having sex with a plastic bag. And all that noise involved – I didn’t like it. I bought a box of them and only used the one.
    That said, it is a really good option for women who have heterosexual partners unwilling or unable to use a male condom. When I was living in Uganda, there was a huge demand for them, even more so that male condoms. The women I was living/working with wanted to take control of their reproduction, but many of them were uneasy about using the pill, or it was inaccessible.
    It’s nice to have another option to keep yourself safe, and I hope that researchers continue to improve upon it to make it a little more comfortable.

  • Josh Jasper

    I used lube the one time I tried it. The “pushed aside” issue came from after fully pulling out, then pushing back in. There was no mechanism for the outer ring of the condom to stay in one place. Had I known about it, I’d have been more careful, and I think that problem could have been avoided.

  • TheSoyMilkConspiracy

    Apologies! I wasn’t speaking about your specific case or saying you weren’t taking the necessary precautions, I was just speaking generally. The “pulling out all the way and missing when going back in” deal is a big downside that, yes, can’t always be solved by lube. Using both male and female condoms can necessitate a higher degree of awareness during sex. For male condoms, you have to pay attention to make sure they don’t break or slip off. Female condoms require vigilance about slippage and, uh, not hitting the target, so to speak.

  • BEG

    I have *never* understood the argument for “this is a good option if your partner refuses use a condom.”
    Are you fucking kidding me? If the guy won’t use a condom, what’s going to make him use the female condom? At that point, you have to use something he won’t notice is there (if you can’t get away from the asshat entirely).
    I’ve also wondered how you get the thing in there, and from the comments, it sounds pretty nontrivial.
    I’m not against it, by any means. But, it just doesn’t sound like much of an improvement on the male condom.

  • toomey

    Can someone explain what you mean by “pushed aside”? I’m having trouble understanding what exactly this means.

  • vegkitty

    They had FC/RC’s at my old college’s Student Health Center. No one ever used them (the bin was always full, whereas the male condom bin was always running low).
    If I was having sex on a regular basis (i.e. at all), I’d try them.

  • trex

    meaning that when the penis is withdrawn completely from the vagina and condom, it goes back in on one side of the condom instead in the center of the condom, enveloping the penis. That would mean there’s an unsheathed penis and an unused ,um, giant plastic grocery bag (in my experience)inside a vag or anus. It takes a bit of co-operation to get the penis in there at the start, so if, in the heat of passion the ween comes all the way out, the partners might not think to take the time to carefully place it again.

  • zoechi

    Yes! The female condom is as effective as the male condom as a contraceptive and at protecting both partners from STIs and HIV.
    A couple other things: Studies have proven that the more options for protection there are on the market the more sex acts are protected. If you have tried the female condom and don’t like it you should still advocate for making it available and less expensive. Also, not everyone is able to make the choice to be with a caring partner that wants to use protection. The female condom is the only woman controlled form of barrier contraception. The pill cannot protect you from STIs and HIV.
    Second, try it at least 3 times before you give up on it! To insert vaginally: hold the inner ring between your middle finger and thumb (twisting it into a figure 8 might help you get a better grip), gently push it into the vaginal canal. When you can’t comfortably slide it in from the outside, reach your finger inside the condom and nudge the inner ring up to the cervix. The inner ring will circle the cervix. When its in properly you can’t feel it any more (just like a tampon). The outer ring does “bloom” out of the vagina but is useful to stimulate the clitoris during sex! The more lube you use the better. If you have a plastic bag feeling using lube will help it adhere to the vaginal walls and help a penis or dildo slide in and out comfortably.
    Some tips: put it in 30 minutes before you have sex to let it warm up to your body temperature. This makes it feel super natural for both partners and helps it adhere better. Practice makes perfect, so try it out yourself before you bring it into sex with your partner.
    Remember: If you like than you should have put a ring on it! :)