Female condom may soon give couples a new option

from Common Sense About AIDS
supplement to AIDS Alert, December, 1992
copyright 1992 AIDS Alert

Researchers are trying to find ways to give women better methods of protection from sexually transmitted diseases, like AIDS, by developing female condoms. One of the products may soon be sold at your local pharmacy. The Reality Vaginal Pouch - a condom for women - received preliminary approval from the federal government and final approval is pending.

Resembling a small, plastic stocking, the new condom consists of a soft, loose-fitting plastic sheath and two flexible rings. (see Figure below.) One of the rings lies outside, covering the cervix, while the other ring remains outside of the vagina.

The condom is made of polyurethane, a material stronger and thinner than latex, which is used to make most male condoms.

"Once it's inserted, you can't feel it," says Mary Ann Leeper, PhD, senior vice president of development for Wisconsin Pharmacal Co. in Jackson, WI, which manufactures the product. "It's made of polyurethane, which is a very thin plastic which transfers heat, so once it's inside of the body, it takes on body temperature. It's warm, and it's moist."

Product studies show many women like the device, Leeper says. Of 147 women who used it in a study, most found it was easy to insert and comfortable. Women who like the device include:

  • women who are ready to stop using birth control pills and want to try a barrier method;
  • women who are allergic to latex, but want to use a barrier method;
  • women who want the option of using both a male condom and female condom so each partner is sharing the responsibility for protection against diseases and pregnancy.

Women who didn't like using the female condom were happy with their method of protection. They share some of the following characteristics:

  • they do not like to use tampons or barrier methods of birth control;
  • they do not like having anything hang outside of their vagina.

Will they agree to use it?

Even though most women studied liked the product, what did men think? Leeper says only 14% of men in the study didn't like their partners using the pouch.

Product studies also show the female condom protects against pregnancy as well as the male condom, diaphragm, cervical cap, and contraceptive sponge, Leeper says. Also, laboratory tests show HIV (human immunodeficiency virus), the virus that causes AIDS, doesn't penetrate the polyurethane barrier.

In addition, your doctor doesn't have to fit you for the device. Once it's approved by the federal government, you can buy it over the counter at your local drugstore.

Another advantage of the pouch is that it's not disruptive to sex because a woman can insert it minutes or hours before intercourse, Leeper says. Like the male condom, the female condom can only be used once.

A major difference between the male and female condom that the female condom is expected to be more expensive. The retail cost of one female condom is expected to be between $2 and $2.25. A package of 12 male condoms costs about $6 in some stores.

To make the product more widely available to women, the manufacturer of the Reality female condom plans to sell it to family planning clinics at a lower cost.

Some health professionals question how much control the female condom will actually give women. Some men refuse to wear condoms and may oppose using the device. The National Women's Health Network in Washington, DC, says it may be easier for women to persuade their male partners to use the female condom because it is not as constricting as the male condom.

Although this material is copyrighted, the publisher grants permission to photocopy Common Sense About AIDS and distribute it to your patients and others. We encourage the dissemination of this information.
[email protected] (Sat Feb 11 02:22:57 1995)