Most of us know about male condoms because they are the #1 barrier method to prevent pregnancy and the best barrier option to prevent the transmission of STDs. They are also relatively affordable, with choices that start at below one dollar per condom. Well, female condoms have been around since the early 1960s, and were approved in the US in 1993. Different brand names include: FC, Reality, Femidom, Dominique, Femy, Myfemy, Protectiv' and Care. The female condom, when used properly, will line the entire vaginal canal and prevent sperm from entering and touching any mucosal tissue. There is a silicone-based lubricant on the inside of the condom, though more can be added for comfort.
The pluses of the female condom?
-Women get a chance to share "condom responsibility"
-If the male partner does not want to use a condom, she can now provide barrier protection
-The outer ring of the condom is visible outside the vagina (once inserted) which can make some women self conscious
-The condoms make noise during intercourse and "movement"
-Some women find it hard to insert
-It can be expensive and quite limited in some countries
-They really should be used once and discarded
In 2005, the makers of the FC female condom announced a new product called the FC2. It has the same design as the original FC condom, but it is made of nitrile, which allows for cheaper production. It also seems to cause less allergic reactions. The company began large scale production in 2007 and the FDA approved it for use in the US in late 2008. When lubricant is added, the FC2 also is a bit quieter to use. The World Health Organization has approved the FC2, and UN Agencies have been given the green light to order and use it in their programs.
The UN considers the female condom a huge help in stemming the spread of HIV and it is used in public health programs in more than 90 countries worldwide. It is actually quite popular in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Brazil, where it is actively promoted. In 2005 nearly one third of all female condoms sold were used in Africa (the VA W.O.W. Condom Feminine or VA for short is the most widely used one there, and is made from latex).
Here in the US it is considered a possible new "helper" in the effort to deliver affordable access to women-initiated HIV prevention. The company hopes to price it at about 60 cents/condom when sold directly to health organizations and government agencies. They do plan to try and exhaust the current FC inventory and then replace it with the FC2 exclusively.