Condoms have been eponymous with male users for thousands of years. Even in ancient times, females were only afforded emergency contraceptive or abortion measures. This trend is being slowly changed by the recently introduced female condom. Saying it was recently invented would be incorrect, as the first publicly marketed condoms for women are dated back to 1993, by Wisconsin Pharmacal. The public lampooned it and it crashed and burned in consumer acceptance and sales.
Problems and More Problems
There were several factors that contributed to this which included the taboo surrounding sex, the unwillingness of users to try something new, the unfamiliarity of the female condom and the surge of negative media attention which drowned it. Economics was also an important factor as it was significantly more expensive than a male condom.
The form of the condom itself was a big problem as well. It was made of polyurethane, and looked sort of like a plastic bag. There were two rubber rings at both ends to keep the device in place which caused discomfort if inserted improperly. Speaking of which, there was a learning curve when using the product which put people off, who preferred the more familiar and intuitive male condom.
After being lampooned by American media, who compared it with everything from jellyfish to garbage bags, Wisconsin Pharmacal’s belief in the concept was justified in 1995. The company was contacted by Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Health and Child Welfare with a petition that demanded the female condom be brought to the country which was signed by 30,000 women. The female condom then took off among women who were at risk of HIV in low-income countries, especially around sub-Saharan Africa where there was a full-blown AIDS crisis taking place. The prevalent societal norms allowed men to have multiple partners, and women had nearly no say in sexual safety and hygienic matters. The female condom gave them some power in the bedroom and reduced the chances of contracting HIV and other STD’s by 95-97% with every use.
Change is Good
Along with the place, the condom itself changed as well. From polyurethane, the manufacturers switched to nitrite which is the material used to make medical gloves. The change resulted in a less alien looking product which was able to fit in more discreet packaging and was easier to handle and use. This aided in getting the female condom accepted among consumers, who now had a product closer to what was familiar to them as well as a product that was easier to handle.
New Inroads, New Players
Path was a non-profit organization based in Seattle. They made it their business to reinvent basic medical technologies, and make it more user-friendly and accessible to more people. Their research and trials hit upon the idea that changed the female condom forever – an applicator. The concept was actualized by 2003 in the form of a dissolving applicator in what was called the Women’s Condom. The product reported an 80-97% satisfaction rate.Since then, the female condom has come a long way. New versions like the Cupid, made by an Indian manufacturer, are made of natural latex and are among the most inexpensive female condoms around.
New hope for the future?
Global research indicates that the female condom provides women the choice of contraception, and improves the chances of not being exposed to infectious sexually transmitted diseases. Global efforts like Global Female Condom Day, and international support by groups like Chicago Female Condom Campaign are slowly helping the female condom make a comeback.
New reports say that some men find the female condom more pleasurable than the male condom. The inner ring stimulates the tip of the penis while the outer ring does the same for the clitoris. The female condom allows women the freedom to choose their own contraception which goes a long way in both preventing the spread of HIV and in empowering women across the world.
Efforts are on to provide more discreet versions, so that an uncooperative partner will not know that contraception is being used. In addition, the acceptance and widespread use of this alternate form of contraception will make way for others in development, like vaginal gels that prevent HIV and oral anti retroviral tablets.