USA Today says female condoms are "making a comeback in U.S. cities." The evidence? Scant. But let's take a look at why no one goes crazy over this form of contraception.
Sex educators have encouraged the use of female condoms to fight AIDs in the developing world, where reluctance to use male condoms is a major factor, with mixed results. It's also been floated for use in anal sex, although there's no solid research on the topic. In any case, it's unclear what "comeback" is being referred to in the U.S., in terms of any previous popularity — they can be hard to find. When adult film star Stoya tried to give the female condom a shot, she hunted far and wide til finally locating one at Babeland, according to her blog.
What exactly is the female condom? It's a pouch (the first generation was made of polyurethane, the second of synthetic nitrile) that's about 6.5 inches, with flexible rings on either side. One side is inserted into the vagina to hold it in place, the other side, an open ring, is at the opening of the vagina.
The USA Today story says that in San Francisco, FC2s — the second generation of female condoms, made out of a cheaper-to-manufacture material — were passed out on Valentine's Day, and Walgreens has started stocking them in ten percent of its stores. And there's this:
And in Washington, where all 55 CVS stores carry it, 25,000 people used it in the past year, says Mary Ann Leeper, founder of its maker, the Female Health Co. In fact, she says, the number of FC2s distributed in the USA tripled in the past year. It's the only female condom on the U.S. market, but it's sold in more than 100 other countries and even has a Facebook fan page.
We'll buy that tripling distribution in a year is a major coup, although the numbers are still tiny. We're less impressed by the existence of a Facebook fan page. (How many fans does it have? Was it set up by the manufacturer? Is she referring to this Wikipedia syndication, with a barely respectable 1,130 fans?)
So why is the female condom the, um, sad sack of contraceptive options? Stoya's experiment does not make it sound very appealing:
The thing about these female condoms is that they're kind of baggy. And the ring at the top which is supposed to keep it in the vagina isn't very stable. And they're sort of sticky. All of this adds up to the condom kind of sticking to the penis in question instead of sticking inside my vagina, which kind of felt like I was being banged by a stiff ziplock bag. Eeek.
On the other hand, Planned Parenthood says it actually "may enhance sex play — the external ring may stimulate the clitoris during vaginal intercourse." A manufacturer of female condoms admits on its site,
There may be an initial negative reaction to FC, because of its size, but this feeling diminishes with use. It is useful to compare FC to an unrolled male condom to highlight that FC is the same length but wider than the male condom. It is also important to note that FC provides added protection because the base of the penis and the external female genitalia are partly covered during use. To reduce potential negative reactions, some programmes have suggested introducing FC rolled up to minimise its size; inserting FC before the initiation of sexual activity; and stressing the advantages of the wider diameter, as many men complain about the constricting nature of male condoms.
Those safety benefits can't be dismissed. Anyone tried this one?
Female Condoms Are Gaining Ground [USAT] Related: Stoya Vs. The Female Condom [Tumblr]
Earlier: What's The Best Way To Combat HIV/AIDS Around The World?