[insert female condom here]

Contraception eh?! Fun stuff, for some people it’s an everyday part of their existence. A pill they take day in day out for a massive chunk of their lives. Others implant something in their arm or their uterus and don’t think about it again for several years. For some people it’s a conversation every time they get their kit off, an expectation or negotiation for the best possible outcome each time. And until recently it’s always been a male centred device.

The female condom was originally made using a polyurethane which made it a) very expensive and b) akin to the sensation of having sex with a crisp packet. The newer model, FC2, is made with much cheaper (and quieter) nitrile but has struggled to overcome the stigma connected with the first model.

Basically, it’s a bigger, floppier and tougher version of the male condom that comes with some extra bonus features. Due to internal and external flexible rings the FC2 can be inserted before sexy times commence and removed after they’ve finished, reducing the embarrassing fumblings and lost moments of intimacy (male condom can only be applied when the guy is hard and has to be removed directly after ejaculation to prevent stray sperm from making their way into the partner). The flexy rings are also reported to increase sexual pleasure for both parties stimulating the clitoris of the woman and the head of the penis in the man during intercourse. The external ring also has the added benefit of covering parts of the external genitalia providing greater protection to users from STIs. FC2 can be used for both vaginal and anal sex. The key attraction of the FC2 however on a broad scale is that is currently the only method of STI prevention which is controlled by women.

Despite all these fabulously attractive positives to FC2, it remains unpopular and underused. Part of the reason for this is the cost, with a single item costing around 72c in current large scale production. The other part is that donors haven’t come onboard with the concept and potential benefit of the product and as such, distribution among communities with the most need is limited. But access is certainly not the only concern, social stigma, embarrassment, confusion and resistance to the size, feel and association of the FC2 is preventing it from being the success story it really should be. Despite the updated design and manufacture, women still complain about the noise and associated embarrassment (although from my experience of heterosexual sex, it’s never a particularly quiet affair….). I personally feel that convention is a massive part of the problem. We’re used to condoms, they’ve been around forever, they are a natural and normalised part of our sexual lives. FC2 on the other hand is new and kinda scary. It takes a bit of practice to get it inserted properly. It’s big and floppy and makes you think your vag must look somewhat similarly unattractive (not a nice thought right before you have sexy times).

As a queer woman it’s hard for me to judge my fellow ladies for not pushing the envelope with this one. I don’t really know what it’s like to use one, my contraception negotiation skills are fairly low. I get a lot of attitude like “we already have male condoms, they’re working fine, why fix it if it ain’t broke?”. To which I guess my reply would be with another question, are we sure that it ain’t broke?

With approximately 2.5 million (thanks Sony) new HIV infections worldwide every year, the majority of which are from sexual contact, I think we can safely say that it’s a little bit broken. We know that the effective and constant use of both male and female condoms are the only ways to protect against sexually transmitted HIV infection and while education, information and distribution of these products isn’t universal or always particularly good it is happening. So in the global fight to reduce the severity of the HIV pandemic and halt the increased infection of more people shouldn’t we be pulling out all the artillery we’ve got? Especially when this new tool shifts the focus from one partner to the other?

The feminist in me can’t help but shake my fist and growl “grrrrr patriarchy!”. The stagnation on pushing a woman centred contraceptive feels all too familiar and disappointing and the reticence around driving this potentially life saving device to the masses feels like just another opportunity to deny women autonomy and self-determination. I think we can safely say that across large swathes of the world, women have less control and power in their sexual lives that men and that regularly decision making around when, how, why and where sex happens is less a negotiation and more a resignation. Handing a little power back in a device that is controlled by women feels like a no brainer to me… but maybe I’m wrong ;o)

And thanks Caro for the article title. xxx

Image taken from lil’latvian‘s photostream on Flickr under Creative Commons License.

7 thoughts on “[insert female condom here]

  1. I’ve HEARD of these things but never read a description of how they work. They sound kind of fun. Pity about the expense, I guess. I’ve never liked male condoms much, it feels too much like having sex with a cucumber in cling wrap.

    • Try not to read too many other descriptions of how they’re used/work before you try. There is a lot of bad press out there and I wouldn’t want your opinion to be coloured too much before you give it a go. When you do, please write for us about it! As someone who doesn’t have sex with men I feel somewhat underqualified to comment too much!

  2. Great that there is an option for female controlled contraception, hopefully there will be more improvements made over time.

  3. I’ve had three unplanned pregnancies so far from using hormone based contraceptives as directed – clearly they aren’t the rit method for me. So I love the idea of having choices in what barrier method to use. The more options that are socially and financially accessible to women, the better the health outcomes will be.

  4. I’m really curious to read reports from people who’ve actually used them – there doesn’t seem to be much on the net yet. And “72c in volume” translates to $14 for 10 plus $15 shipping from the US. http://www.undercovercondoms.com/Condoms/Reality/3976/Female-Condom-FC2.html Hopefully someone over here will bring in some samples and sell them off one at a time at events so we can get some feedback. FWIW, haven’t seen them at any Melbourne events.

    I tried femidom 1 and was appalled, I suspect the failure rate would be extremely high due to the difficulty of staying sane while trying to use one… leading to a lot of “did not use” failures. The best we got was (for him) feeling like using a bad fake vagina and (for her) feeling like being poked by a badly made plastic dildo. Also, the wetter she got the more likely the whole arrangement was to behave like a male condom (well, a male condom with painful pokey plastic parts attached). Hopefully the new ones are thinner and feel better.

    Possibly combining the FC with something like a WeeVibe would work better, although probably still delaying orgasm for him until another method of stimulation is provided. Ahem and all that. And no, “delaying orgasm” is not a benefit of the tool unless he is into that. Some men are, some aren’t.

  5. A good read! Sounds like FC2 might be useful for queer female sex too if using/sharing anything insertive. I too would be interested to hear of any RL experiences of the new female condom, and I think the key to its wider success is to keep talking about it, writing articles (like this!) and socialising the experience.

    I recently blogged about how Planned Parenthood released condoms with QR codes on them so that people could anonymously ‘check in’ and share the experience… would be good if we could do this with lots of different types of contraception to show the diversity of options available, and when/where/how people are using them!


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