Why female condoms are so hard to find

Why female condoms are so hard to find


Male condoms come in all types of fun
shapes and sizes and flavors. Some even glow-in-the-dark. There are hundreds of male condoms that have been approved by the FDA. Amazon alone has 76
pages full of different options, but how many types of female condoms are
available in the US? Turns out, just one. A female condom is the only woman-initiated method of preventing unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted
infections. It’s a sheath with two rings, one open
one closed, that can be used for vaginal or anal sex. Typically it’s almost as effective as a male condom and it can be inserted up to
eight hours before having sex. So, you don’t have to stop in the heat of the
moment to fumble with a clumsy condom wrapper. Despite being effective and
convenient, only a small percent of women in the US have reportedly ever even used
a female condom. Why aren’t more women using this thing? We decided to find out. So I enlisted Dion to help me scour the neighborhood to find one. Can you just put a wig on and you can do it? Do you guys have female condoms? Do you guys have female condoms? They don’t have it. Even though we ended up getting brownie
snacks out of the whole thing, not a single store that we went to sold female
condoms. I don’t even have to leave my office lobby to buy male condoms. After doing a little research I found out why it was impossible to find a female condom. It turns out you can’t buy them in a store. Well, that sucks. Yep. Veru Inc., formerly known as the Female Health Company, is the only
company with a female condom on the market in the US. And they switched to a
prescription based system in 2017, so if you want to get one you either have to
go see your doctor or buy it directly from their website. Imagine if a man
needed prescriptions to buy condoms. Female condoms aren’t new. A Danish
inventor created a prototype in the early 1980s, in response to the AIDS
crisis at the time. In 1993 the Female Health Company brought the design to the US, and their first FDA-approved version was
unimaginatively called the FC1. It was made of polyurethane plastic, which was
less flexible than latex. Some women reported that it was uncomfortable, made
squeaky noises and, because there was little awareness around proper use, it
sometimes fell out during sex. The media also ridiculed it, comparing its
appearance to a jellyfish, a windsock, and a plastic bag. In 2009 the company came
up with a second version, the FC2, made with a softer rubber. It was more
comfortable and quieter, but it still didn’t take off. Male condoms certainly
have been around for a lot longer and are more accessible and people, frankly,
are much more comfortable with the things that they know. This is Dawn
Bingham, an ob-gyn and a fellow with Physicians for Reproductive Health. And I think that the female condom has not grown in popularity as the male condom
has, because it’s very easy to educate people about male condoms. You can let
the people know how to use a prop, using a banana to show how simple it
is to put on a male condom and we don’t have the same accessible models for
female condom to make people that comfortable. According to a report in the
Journal of Urban Health, the tampon had similar challenges when it was first
introduced in the 1930s. In the first decade on the market, the tampon was only
used by 4 to 6% of women and doctors questioned its safety and usefulness. It took decades and carefully planned marketing campaigns to reach even modest
popularity among women. Female condoms had a similar trajectory in Zimbabwe. After health organizations campaigned for the condom as a successful barrier
against HIV, the government introduced it in 1997. To boost popularity they were
marketed across universities, pharmacies, and even hair salons. Which eventually led to high usage rates and a decline in HIV cases. These kind of
contraceptive and STI prevention methods are useful, because they empower the
woman or whoever the receptive partner is to protect themselves. And they’re
simple to use. But there still isn’t enough awareness around female condoms
in the US yet. The FDA put the female condom in the
most strictly regulated category of medical devices, which requires hundreds
of thousands of dollars of extra research and takes a ton of time for
market approval. But the FDA is now considering reclassifying the female
condom and renaming it the “single-use internal condom”. This would ease
restrictions on companies and let people know they’re actually not just for women. Sure, male condoms work but that doesn’t mean they should be the only accessible
choice for everyone.