The Night of the Undead -Condom, that is… (female condom, I mean)

They’re back! Well, sort of… My somewhat sketchy memories of them -professional, you understand- are that they resembled the plastic bags you get at a supermarket… not female condoms (FC1s). They didn’t look at all like condoms! In fact, I still remember the jokes about needing Walmart greeters on entry and theft alarms on exit -this from the women themselves. No one seemed particularly enamoured of the concept: they were apparently made of polyurethane and quite apart from the distracting noise they made during use, they were ungainly not to mention unsightly. To use one at all required unprecedented devotion to the product and a fair amount of lead time…

Ahh, but they’re back; this time with fresh clothes: the new and apparently improved FC2 is made of non-rustling synthetic latex (as reported in the BBC News magazine : ). I mean, the concept is a good one: empower the person who would suffer most from a pregnancy -the woman. And the article cites other advantages of the device as well: ‘They can be inserted hours before sex, meaning that there is no distraction at the crucial moment, and they don’t need to be removed immediately afterwards. For women, there is better protection from sexually transmitted infections, since the vulva is partially covered by an outer ring that keeps the device in place.’ All well and good; hard to argue with that… I guess.

Perhaps I am being overly critical, but I begin to sense a car salesman approach to a more professional selection in an article recently published in Lancet Global Health about three new models of the female condom: ‘The Cupid is available in India, South Africa and Brazil. It is vanilla scented and comes in pink or natural colours. It is currently the only model besides the FC2 to have been qualified by the World Health Organization (WHO) for public-sector purchase. A smaller version aimed at the Asian market is in trial.’ I suppose anything you can do to spruce up a classic is worthwhile if it makes it more desirable…

Innovation is what drives industry and no doubt adding variations to something I hadn’t even thought about for years, will appeal to a new and younger audience. A different audience. Several models -or at least their names- tweaked my interest. One, called the Air Condom -apparently available in Columbia- has a little pocket of air somewhere in it to make it easier to insert. And then there’s the Panty Condom (gotta love the name) that ‘is packaged with a special pair of knickers’ to keep it in place. Wow. That’s gotta appeal, eh?

But is merely sprucing up an old idea enough? I can’t help but wonder why the female condom never achieved much success in the first place. Is making a re-usable product -as some have suggested for poor countries- the answer? Or even an answer? I mean, would you hang it on the line to dry..? There must be something vaguely anathema about it -something subtle, perhaps embarrassing: something unsettling in the background. Or maybe it comes from the male partner and his unwillingness to countenance it. Who knows..? It might be as simple and intuitive as the idea that it’s better to Saran-wrap the outside of a stick than the inside of a glass. Anybody’s guess, I suppose.

And yet, whether the female condom ever takes off (no pun intended) I think that all is fair in family planning. Anything that adds a little spice to it, or makes people realize they have options is good. There’s an article in the Huffington Post with an interesting variation on this theme: ‘To Promote Family Planning, Let’s Have More Controversy’ ( ) In other words, if people are talking about it -whether positively or critically- they’re thinking about it. Discussing it …and publically! Even condemnation provokes worthwhile response.

A good example of this is another mention in the Huffington Post of the Gates Foundation awarding grants for ‘Condoms of the Future’: Make male condoms interesting; make them exciting; make them up front and used above all. So if men aren’t happy with female condoms, make them happy with the testosterone version. Let men think they’re the ones leading the fashion parade. Let them think they’re in control… As long as family planning is out there and -dare I say- sexy in the community at large, everybody wins. Maybe even a souped up multicoloured twenty-first century retro model like the female condom. Personally, I’d change the name…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: