|Polyurethane Female condom|
|Failure rates (first year)|
|Advantages and Disadvantages|
|Benefits||No external drugs or clinic visits required|
A female condom is a device that is used during sexual intercourse. Invented by Danish MD Lasse Hessel, it is worn internally by the receptive partner and physically blocks ejaculated semen from entering that person's body. Condoms are used to prevent pregnancy and transmission of sexually transmitted infections (STIs—such as gonorrhea, syphilis, and HIV). Female condoms have been available now for over 15 years.
Versions and materials
The Female Condom was first made from polyurethane. This version is officially called the "FC Female Condom". Newer iterations are made of nitrile polymer and called "FC2" (this material change was announced in September 2005). The newer nitrile condoms are less likely to make potentially distracting crinkling noises. It is hoped the nitrile condoms will also allow for significant reductions in female condom pricing. This line of condoms is manufactured by the The Female Health Company, USA. Both FC1 and FC2 are the only female condoms approved by the World Health Organizatioin (WHO) for purchase by UN agencies. It is sold under many brand names, including Reality, Femidom, Dominique, Femy, Myfemy, Protectiv and Care.
The most recent version of the female condom is made from natural latex, the same material used in male condoms. This condom does not make the noises some experience with plastic condoms. This type of female condom is manufactured by Medtech Products Ltd, India. It is sold under many brand names, including Reddy, V Amour, L'amour, VA WOW Feminine condom, and Sutra. One more clinical trial is required before it can be considered for FDA approval in the United States.
Effectiveness of The Female Condom
Some early tests suggested the Female Condom offered better protection than male condoms, but real-world tests found the original FC to be less effective than male condoms, at preventing pregnancy for most people:
- A presentation at the 1990 International AIDS conference concluded, "exposure to semen was significantly less (p = .001 and p = .03) when WPC-333 was used than when the male condom was used."
- A presentation at the 1989 International AIDS conference concluded that "WPC-333 had significantly fewer water leaks than the male condom at a p-value of .001. The combined probability of risks of leaks, tears and spillage inside the vagina using WPC-333 was 3.3%; the combined probability of risks using the male condom was 11.5%."
- The 1992 U.S. FDA approval of the Reality female condom required the label to compare the pregnancy rate for the female condom at 26% per year to a 15% annual rate for the male latex condom. This was based on a U.S. study of 200 women who used the device for six months. In the study, the six-month pregnancy rate was approximately 12.5 percent, or an estimated 26 percent per year. (This includes incorrect and inconsistent use of the condom.)
- According to Contraceptive Technology: Eighteenth Revised Edition, the typical use failure rate for the first-generation female condoms lies at 21%. This means that of the women who used female condoms as their only form of birth control, 21 out of 100 became pregnant within one year. Of the women who used the female condom correctly, and used one at every act of intercourse, 5% became pregnant after one year. In comparison, the typical use failure rate for male condoms was 15%, while the perfect use failure rate was 2%.
The effectiveness of the female condom at preventing STDs has not been studied to the same extent as male condoms, however it has been put forth that it should have similar effectiveness to preventing pregnancy. They are also dangerous for those who have polyurethane allergies. Sensitivities to silicone or polyurethane may also be a problem.
Costs and reuse of the (polyurethane) original FC
The per unit price of female condoms is higher than male condoms but there is some evidence to suggest that polyurethane female condoms can be washed, disinfected, and reused.
Re-using the polyurethane Female Condom is not considered as safe as using a new one, however the W.H.O. says, "Batches of new, unused female condoms were subjected to seven cycles of disinfection, washing, drying and re-lubrication, reflecting the steps and procedures in the draft protocol, but at considerably higher concentrations of bleach and for longer durations. All female condom batches met the manufacturing quality assessment specifications for structural integrity after the test cycles. ... Disinfection, washing, drying, re-lubrication and reuse of the device were not associated with penile discharge, symptomatic vaginal irritation or adverse colposcopic findings in study volunteers." A presentation at the 1998 International AIDS conference concluded that "washing, drying and re-lubricating the female condom up to ten time does not significantly alter the structural integrity of the device. Further microbiological and virological tests are required before re-use of the female condom can be recommended."
As with all barrier contraceptives, water- and silicone-based lubricants are safe to use with a female condom. Oil damages latex and should not be used with a female condom made of latex. Oils should not directly harm a polyurethane (or nitrile) female condom but may cause other health problems (which could weaken defenses against more serious STDs), or make it more difficult to clean and disinfect (without further weakening it).
The plastic Female condoms have the advantage of being compatible with oil-based lubricants as they are not made of latex. The external genitals of the wearer and the base of the penis of the inserting partner may be more protected than when the male condom is used, however see studies below. Inserting a female condom does not require male erection.
Sales of female condoms have been disappointing in developed countries, though developing countries are increasingly using them to complement already existing family planning and HIV/AIDS programming. Probable causes for poor sales are that inserting the female condom is a skill that has to be learned and that female condoms can be significantly more expensive than male condoms (upwards of 2 or 3 times the cost). Also, reported "rustling" sounds during intercourse turn off some potential users, as does the visibility of the outer ring which remains outside the vagina.
In November 2005, the World YWCA called on national health ministries and international donors to commit to purchasing 180 million female condoms for global distribution in 2006. Their statement stated that "Female condoms remain the only tool for HIV prevention that women can initiate and control", but that they remain virtually inaccessible to women in the developing world due to their high cost of 72 cents per piece. If 180 million female condoms were ordered, the price of the female condom was projected to decline to 22 cents per female condom.
Currently, 14 million female condoms are distributed to women in the developing world on an annual basis. By comparison, between 6 and 9 billion male condoms are distributed per annum.
Similar prophylactics that may not be available
- The Barrier
- Coverage / How it is held in place: It fits over the vulva and perineum and is held in place with thick elastic straps that encircle the women's upper legs. The tube-shaped pouch is about 1 1/2 times larger and 2 times thicker than a male condom. The penis never directly touches the woman's outer or inner genitalia 
- Material: latex
- The Bikini Condom
- Coverage / How it is held in place: "looks like a G-string panty"
- Effectiveness: thicker and less slippage than male condoms, a breakage rate of 0.5%, compared to 1-2% for male condoms
- Advantages: condom pouch can be automatically introduced into the vagina with coitus, reported heightened sensation for women
- Cost-- reuse: "can be used 5-10 times"
- Women's Choice Female Condom
- "Whatever happened to the Femidom?" in Guardian
- MedTechProducts, Ltd. Manufacturer of "Reddy" female condom
- "Female Health Company Announces International Availability of Second - Generation Female Condom at Significantly Lower Price" (PDF) (Press release). Female Health Company. September 29, 2005. Retrieved 2006-08-03. Check date values in:
- Update on the WPC-333 female condom.
- Evaluation of the WPC-333 female condom barriers.
- Female Condoms: Just the Facts
- Hatcher, RA (2000). Contraceptive Technology (18th Edition ed.). New York: Ardent Media. ISBN 0-9664902-6-6. Unknown parameter
- "Table 7-2: Contraceptive Methods". A Guide to the Clinical Care of Women with HIV/AIDS, 2005 edition. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, HIV/AIDS Bureau. 2005. Retrieved 2006-08-03.
- WHO information update: Considerations regarding Reuse of the Female Condom
- Female condom re-use: assessing structural integrity after multiple wash, dry and re-lubrication cycles.
- "The Product". FC & FC2 Female Condom. Female Health Company. 2005. Retrieved 2006-08-03.
- Boston Women's Health Book Collective. Our Bodies, Ourselves : A New Edition for a New Era. New York, NY: Touchstone. ISBN 0-7432-5611-5.
- Global Consultation on the Female Condom. Baltimore, MD: PATH. September 26 to 29, 2005. Retrieved 2006-08-03. Check date values in:
- "Statement of Dr. Musimbi Kanyoro, General Secretary, World YWCA" (Press release). PRNewswire. November 21, 2005. Retrieved 2006-08-03. Check date values in: