Report on the New Version of the Female Condom
This morning, I participated in a teleconference call hosted by the Female Health Company, the folks who manufacture and distribute the Female Condom. If you’re not familiar with this product, it’s sort of a loose pouch that can be inserted into the vagina, as compared to a regular condom which is rolled over the penis. There’s a ring that holds it in place on the inside, with another one that stays outside.
The purpose of the Female Condom is to provide a form of contraception and STI prevention that can be controlled by women. Many women are in relationships in which they are unable to negotiate condom use or with men who refuse to wear condoms, so there’s a big need for a product that women can control.
Unfortunately, the first version of the Female Condom had some hurdles to overcome. It was expensive and the manufacturing process left a seam running from the tip to the outer ring, which could be uncomfortable. It was also made from polyurethane, which made sound like a plastic bag during sex.
Even with those problems, the Female Condom has been quite effective in addressing the global AIDS situation. Since it is FDA approved, international organizations such as the United States Agency for International Development have been distributing it since the late 1990’s and last year, UNAIDS gave out over 15 million of them. (They need FDA approval or the equivalent from another country to be able to distribute products.)
Today’s conference call was a report on the development of the new version, FC2. They’ve taken the feedback from users and agencies into account and have definitely improved the product. FC2 is made from nitrile, so it doesn’t have the seam or the plastic bag sound. It’s also at least 30% less expensive than the first version (the cost per unit decreases with higher volume), and it’s still latex-free.
In addition, Female Health Company has done a lot to create the support that community-based programs need to introduce FC2 to their clients. In the US, they’ve developed the “FC2 Experience Program” with two main goals. First, they offer free samples of FC2 to qualifying organizations to give to their communities. To qualify, an agency needs to work with high-risk populations and submit paperwork to track their progress. They’re rolling it out in different regions and you can get more information here. Second, they’re developing a “Train the Trainers” program to help service providers develop their skills and comfort with FC2. Their training manual is online here, along with some suggestions for where to purchase female pelvis models to use in demonstrations. The Train the Trainers program has started in New York and Atlanta, with plans for Washington DC, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, and other cities with high rates of STIs.
On the international front, FC2 is already available in over 100 countries, thanks to UN agencies and other organizations. As these international groups switch to FC2, which only recently received FDA approval, they expect user satisfaction to increase. To help that along, they’re working to create training programs that are culturally relevant for their client populations, and create standards for best practices for different groups and cultures to teach people the technical skills needed to use FC2 correctly.
While all of this is really great work, it is worth noting that FC2 is not yet approved for use during anal sex. During the Q&A, one of the participants said that she had applied for a grant to answer the question of FC2’s effectiveness and safety during anal sex and had been turned down. Another caller pointed out that European countries are generally much more willing to support this research and that might be a way to meet this need. Finally, the FC2 folks said that this question keeps coming up and we really need the research, despite the challenges faced by researchers.
Lots of people of all genders and sexual orientations enjoy anal play, but it seems likely to me that the source of the resistance is due to homophobia and the assumption that anal sex = teh gay. Having said that, I’m quite sure that people will use FC2 for anal play, just as they used the original Female Condom for anal sex.
If you’re interested in hearing the recording of the conference call, it will be available on the Female Health Company site. I assume that it’ll be on this page since that’s where links to their other conference calls (in mp3 format) are.
I’m really pleased to see the development of this important product and the education programs that will make it easier for people to learn how to use it. There’s still plenty of work to do, but this is a good step forward.