According to this report, the government of Malawi has recently decided that the female condom - approved by the United States FDA in the late 1990s - is safe and effective enough for Malawian women to use. The government wanted to wait to make the propylactic available until there was a demand for the product, which Sandra Mapemba from the Ministry of Health says now exists (women have calling Mapemba's office and asking for the product in significant numbers.). A recent New York Times story about the redesigned version notes that, due to cultural mores in many African countries, wives are often unable to insist that their husbands use condoms on condom usage — female or otherwise — and thus most of the demand stems from unmarried women and those in the sex trade.
In a country like Malawi where, in 2003, the HIV infection rate was more than 14%, giving women options is incredibly important. Interestingly enough, the female condom was never particularly popular in the U.S. But why is it that most American women — including all but one of your Jezebel writers— have never used one? The Jezebel who has used them (me) answers that after the jump.
First off, they're not easy to insert. If you're a diaphragm, cervical cap or NuvaRing user, or even an OB or Instead affcianado, then you already have some familiarity with sticking your fingers way on up in your vagina, but if you use a cervical cap, diaphragm or NuvaRing, you might not be using condoms.
But if you don't regularly stick your fingers way on up in there to stick something in or get something out, this might be more difficult to manage. As an IUD-user, I don't spend a lot of time digging around up in there with anything other than my vibrator, so putting it in was tricky at best. Basically, my boyfriend at the time ended up doing it for me, which negates the purpose of being about to do it yourself even if it was more fun for me personally.
Unfortunately, one of the few exquisitely sensitive parts of your actual vagina is the entrance, which is then covered by the female condom, so using it I got a sense of what men had always tried to (and still try to) say — that using a regular condom reduces sensation. I mean, a male condom is not as fun as condomless for the woman, either, but babies and diseases are way less fun so, dude, you're keeping it wrapped up. That said, it was definitely less sensational with a female condom than with a male.
Luckily, my fellow researcher was my very long term boyfriend at the time (and I had an IUD), so neither disease nor babies was at issue with the condom usage. But, being relatively frugal people, he'd shelled out for them and had heard about an alternate usage method that we decided to try. So we put it on him and went back to work. It wasn't quite as weird as fucking with a baggie on his dick in terms of the noise level, but almost and if that ring on the end never slams into my cervix again I won't be terribly disappointed. That said, I'd take the alternate method — or a regular condom — any day of the week.
By the way, a non-profit research company is currently seeking FDA and WHO approval for a redesigned female condom that eliminates the internal ring, is easier to insert and, apparently, moves with your vagina during sex. Of course, it wouldn't need FDA approval if the FDA had classified female condoms as a Class 2 medical device the way they did male condoms, but the FDA classified the female condom as a Class 3 medical device (like breast implants, pacemakers and the like). So the redesigned female condom's manufacturers get to wait through a complex and lengthy approval process once they finish multi-million dollar clinical trials. I'm happy to volunteer to help with the latter, though — at least once.