Female Condoms

Science, technology, and life.
March 12 2009 8:54 AM

Female Condoms

Liberals want fewer unintended pregnancies and more empowerment for women. Conservatives want fewer abortions. Everybody wants to reduce HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. We can keep yapping about these things, or we can do something constructive.

William Saletan William Saletan

Will Saletan writes about politics, science, technology, and other stuff for Slate. He’s the author of Bearing Right.

Here's something constructive: female condoms. If you don't know what they are, read about them here , here , and here .


Yesterday, the Female Health Company announced FDA approval of its latest female condom. The company's previous condom was being sold for $2.80 to $4 a pop. The new one, which is made of different material ( nitrile polymer instead of polyurethane) in a more automated process, will cost less. Projections range from 30 percent less to just 60 cents per condom at high volume. If a charity can cover the 60 cents, women can get it free.

With billions of male condoms in circulation, why are female condoms such a big deal? For starters, women are generally more responsible about birth control than men are. Even in the United States, 10 percent of women who end up getting abortions because they neglected contraception say their partners objected to using protection. I haven't checked the data lately, but I assure you that overseas the problem is even bigger. The more we take this decision away from men and give it to women, the more unintended pregnancies we'll prevent. That's the first thing female condoms do. They " put the power of protection in women's hands ," says the Female Health Company. The director of the Center for Health and Gender Equity agrees that these condoms give "women another option in negotiating safer sex with their partners or husbands."

Second, because these condoms are designed around the vagina rather than the penis, they're unaffected by erection status. This is a big deal. Look at the company's " product " page and scroll down to the blue box outlining differences between male and female condoms. Female condoms "can be inserted prior to sexual intercourse, not dependent on erect penis," says one line of the box. Another adds: "Does not need to be removed immediately after ejaculation." Think about all the pregnancies that happen because the guy was in a rush or because the condom wasn't removed till the erection had subsided and the sperm had leaked. The female condom removes these timing problems. You put it on in advance, it's there for the duration, and you don't have to worry about the awkwardness of removing it before the guy goes limp.

In short, we're talking about a technology that compensates for human error .

Technology won't solve the whole problem of unintended pregnancies. That still requires personal and social responsibility in using contraception diligently. But better methods can certainly help us do the right thing.



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