The Female Condom:
$5 a pop? This better be good!
There are several barriers preventing women from using the female condom.
TO THE TEST
The Female Condom Pilot Project revealed that despite the benefits, only 36 percent of the participants said they would continue to use the female condom instead of the male condom, even if it was available free of charge.
The project included 117 women who concluded the drugstore price of $5 per condom was just one barrier, in addition to the difficulties of insertion.
"[The female condom] is not widely used," says Sheila Dunn, medical director for the Bay Centre of Birth Control.
Dunn notes that cost, aesthetics, the rustling noise and the fact that it cannot be used with a male condom - as a backup due to risk of tearing the plastic - are all reasons a female may opt out of using the product.
The lack of variety, poor design, and one's willingness and ability to use the product comfortably are additional concerns raised by some Trans Bi Lesbian Gay Alliance at York (TBL-GAY) members, during a casual group discussion.
"I've read that men often miss [the opening of the female condom] and hit the hard plastic ring instead," says Annie Gilbert, a volunteer at TBL-GAY who is not confident in the product's effectiveness, especially due to the seam located down the side of the condom.
Although 78 percent of the pilot project participants feel the female condom offers greater control over their sexual health versus the male version, it may not be an option for sex trade workers.
"Prostitutes will not use the female condom because it's not practical," says Denise Collins, who volunteered for outreach programs in the Ottawa area. She added that prostitutes find that their clients are turned off by the idea of a woman wearing a condom.
The pilot project concluded that Toronto Public Health should provide male and female condoms free of charge to prevent unplanned pregnancies and the transmission of STDs, especially HIV. The second recommendation was to provide effective teaching resources to community groups and health care providers with product distribution.
According to health officials, the female condom is intended for use by women whose partner(s) cannot or will not use a condom, who have an allergy or sensitivity to latex, who have had a hysterectomy (with or without the cervix removed), who are on their period, or who are peri- or post-menopausal.
The product is a loose-fitting polyurethane sheath approximately 24 millimetres long, with a flexibly ring at each end.
Polyurethane is a soft, thin, supple plastic that is stronger than latex and conducts heat. It can be inserted up to eight hours before intercourse.
The pilot project reported that the "key ingredient" to using the female condom is practice, both privately and with the partner.
According to a pamphlet normally included with the packaging of the product, the condom must be inserted when the body is upright, with ample lubrication applied inside and out before the inner ring is squeezed and inserted into the vagina.
The outer ring is intended to remain outside the vagina while the inner ring sits outside the cervix.
Women looking for more information on the female condom are encouraged to contact TBLGAY, the AIDS & Sexual Health Info Line at (416) 392-2437 (toll free 1-800-668-2437) or visit your doctor, gynecologist or a community health clinic.