The Female Condom Gets a Makeover

Chris's picture

The female condom has kind of been like the Betamax of safer sex. Despite its debut being heralded with a lot of hype and hopes, it never caught on, either in the United States or elsewhere. Now the makers have redesigned it, hoping that it'll live up to its potential the second time around. I do know women who like the female condom: at least two have told me that they didn't like using it unless they were serious about a guy, because it felt much more intimate than a regular condom. But no matter what they do with the shape and design, I don't think that the female condom's ever going to become competitive unless they can do something about the price, which has always been up around $4 per female condom as opposed to .50 to $1.00 for the old-fashioned kind.

The redesigned female condom is made of softer, thinner polyurethane to better transmit warmth. It is easier to insert; one end is bunched up as small as a tampon, an improvement on the old design, which resembled the stiff rubber ring of a diaphragm and had to be folded into a figure 8 for insertion.

During sex, the new female condom also moves more like a vagina than the old design did, according to couples in Seattle, Thailand, Mexico and South Africa who tested a series of prototypes, said Joanie Robertson, project manager for the condom at PATH. The old design hung passively from the rubber ring, which could shift around and sometimes hurt; the new design has dots of adhesive foam that adhere to the vaginal walls, expanding with them during arousal.

According to PATH, more than 90 percent of the couples were satisfied with the ease of use and comfort of the new condom, and 98 percent found the sensation of sex to be “O.K. to very satisfactory....”

PATH is seeking approval from the Food and Drug Administration so the condom can be sold in the United States. And with the drug agency’s approval, it would be much easier to license the condom in poor countries or get a World Health Organization endorsement.

While the F.D.A. designates male condoms as Class 2 medical devices — meaning that a new maker has to pass tests only for leakage and bursting — it puts female condoms in Class 3, the same category as pacemakers, heart valves and silicone breast implants.