The female condom

FC2 Female Condom - The Female Health Company

I bought myself some female condoms today from Boots. I’m writing an article about them for Suite101 so figured I’d better test them out first. It’s a pack of three by Pasante for £5.49 so they’re more expensive than regular condoms, which is one reason why they aren’t as popular.

There are two different types on the market: The FC2 made by the Female Health Company (FHC), and the VA Feminine condom by Medtech Products Ltd (sold as Reddy, V Amour, and Feminine Condom).

The FC2 is made of synthetic latex or nitrile, a cheaper (and quieter!) material than the original version FC1, which is made from polyurethane. It’s a long baggy sheath and has a ring at each end to aid insertion and removal. The VA Feminine condom is made from natural latex and has a soft sponge instead of a ring, to hold it in place, which some women may find more comfortable.

PATH (The Programme For Appropriate Technology) has developed a further prototype called The Women’s Condom. They are doing phase 2/3 clinical trials to get FDA approval to market it in the US. They’ve spent the past few years researching different materials and gathering results to develop a more user-friendly/affordable/sensitive condom than previous brands. The result is a softer, thinner condom, and so far, user feedback has been positive.

I like the idea of the female condom because it puts women in the driving seat with non-hormonal contraception, and can be inserted for up to eight hours before sex, which takes the pressure off if you’re trying to put on one in the heat of the moment. Some men say that they can’t feel a thing during sex when they’re wearing a latex condom so if the material is thinner and more sensitive than latex then it’s a step forward.

The Femidom

Here’s a link to journalist Kate Burt’s article on the British brand Femidom. She explains that a Danish MD, Dr Lasse Hessel, designed it as an incontinence sheath. It launched in 1991 to lots of publicity but didn’t really take off because women didn’t find it particularly sexy or easy to use, and it was rather expensive in comparison to male condoms.

Things began to progress when the manufacturers of the FC2 tapped into unexpected markets. The Ministry of Health in Zimbabwe told the FHC that local women were asking for female condoms because they wanted to have more control over their contraception. African men hadn’t really come round to the idea of wearing a condom regularly.

The women developed new strategies to sex up the FC and found it pleasurable to use  for masturbation (women in India said using it had given them their first orgasms). They wore erotic accessories on their hips to create a sexy sound during sex that the men associated with the condom. They asked men to insert it, breaking down cultural taboos about seeing the vagina up close and personal. Flatter a man into submission by telling him the female condom is very large, which must show the size of his tackle because “it’s such a snug fit.” Men in Ghana use it for masturbation and say it feels pretty good, as the ring stimulates the tip of the penis.

The FHC did a deal with the World Health Organisation to sell the female condom via educational programmes to those countries affected by HIV/Aids. In 2008, 35m female condoms were circulated in 93 countries (UNFPA), which is fantastic but still low in comparison to male condoms (around 10 billion per year).

The Pleasure Project

Anne Philpott, who worked for the FHC, has set up a company called The Pleasure Project. Its focus is spreading the message about sexual pleasure and safe sex, the aim being to cut STI rates around the world. She has got involved in various projects, including consulting on erotic films to show that the FC is sexy as a tool for self-pleasure. Here are a few tips from the Pleasure Project website on how to make the most of it:

  • The Rub – rub the outer ring on the clitoris or labia using your fingers or cock.
  • The Bump – many people find the inner ring stimulating when the penis rubs against it. In Zimbabwe, there’s a new word “kaytec-yenza,” which describes the delicious tickle felt by a man when the inner ring rubs against his penis.
  • Try it with different types of lubricant.
  • You can insert it up to eight hours before sex so there’s no fumbling around in the heat of the moment.

The condom industry is innovative and fast-moving. I’ve come across condoms for erectile dysfunction, a condom with ‘teeth’ to deter rape, and those made of various materials including Fairtrade latex. I’d like to try the new Woman’s Condom to see if it’s more comfortable than the FC2. It’s only a matter of time before there’s a new version on the market that is easy to use, and feels as sexy as real skin.

I’ll do a little road test on the FC2 next week and let you know how it feels. Let’s see if it spices up my working day 😉


Image: The Female Health Company
The Pleasure Project
The Guardian: “Whatever Happened to the Femidom?” by Kate Burt, published 23rd August 2005.

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