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Q&A About the New FC!

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Submitted by Heather Corinna on Sat, 2010-03-13 13:31

In case you haven't already heard, the female condom (FC) has had a recent redesign. Yippee! (And how much do I love "put a ring on it" as a slogan for female condom use? I love it a whole lot.)

I was able to catch up with Mary Ann Leeper, the Female Health Company's Senior Strategic Advisor and past President/COO to ask her a few questions people seem to have about it. Check it out!

The FC has recently been redesigned! Can you tell us about the changes?
What’s new about the FC2 condom is the material. Our first-generation product was made with polyurethane. The second-generation female condom is made with a synthetic rubber called nitrile. Nitrile delivers at least two benefits to consumers. The first is that it lets us make FC2 with the same cost-efficient “dipping” process used to make male condoms. The second is that nitrile is softer than polyurethane, which means that FC2 feels softer and it doesn’t make noise when you use it.

Why did you make those changes?
We made FC2 because we realized that the first-generation female condom simply cost too much, and we knew that we couldn’t make it more affordable to HIV prevention programs and consumers unless we changed the material and introduced a more cost-effective manufacturing process. So we made the switch to a new material with the goal of expanding affordable access to HIV prevention to women and men around the world.

It's great to have another option besides male condoms for condom use, but having the FC isn't so simple as just having a different style of condom. Can you talk a bit about why?
The short answer is that it’s easier to put something “on” a penis than it is to put something “in” a vagina. That’s just the basic difference between male and female anatomy. But if he doesn’t want to put a male condom “on,” what do you do then? We think it’s better for women to have their own option. And we’ve invested a lot of our resources in creating programs that teach women the simple steps to insert and use the female condom.

We know that this kind of grassroots education pays off because we have a great example. The tampon was first developed in the early 20th century, but it took decades of grassroots education and outreach before enough women used it and could spread the word to their friends. We’re confident that we can achieve the same awareness and use with the female condom.

What myths have you encountered around female condoms: what things do people think about them that just aren't true?
The most frustrating and damaging myth is that “women don’t like female condoms.” We have dozens of published, peer-reviewed studies that show they do. And the research shows that user acceptability of the female condom – among women and men – is comparable to the male condom. And if you are a man, what’s not to like? She’s the one wearing protection!

Another myth that we need to overcome is that “There is no need for female condoms if male condoms are available.” Research shows that when couples have access to more prevention choices, the rate of unsafe sex decreases and the rate of new sexually transmitted infections declines. What’s wrong with having more choices?

How easy (or hard) is it for people to get the FC? Where can everyone find them?
Currently in the U.S., FC2 is available only through public sector distributors – like community based organizations, health clinics, and AIDS service organizations. The exciting exception is DC, where CVS/pharmacy has taken real leadership in making sure that women and men have 24/7 access. We are a manufacturer, not a marketing company, so we need to recruit retail partners and distributors to expand access. We’re convinced that grassroots education and access will stimulate demand to the point where we can secure more retail partners. And we’re working hard to convince more retail outlets to carry FC2.

What's your favorite FC success story?
This is the story that inspires me most: I was working long hours to finish up the detailed dossier that the FDA requires for all of its product approvals. It was tough, draining work, and just when I was starting to ask myself whether it was worth the effort, my phone rang. A young woman had participated in an FC study at Columbia University and she wanted to thank me for helping her. She told me that she was in an abusive relationship, that her boyfriend was HIV positive, and that he was refusing to use a male condom. Then she told me that having the female condom allowed her to protect herself without his knowledge. She’d insert it before he came home, usually high on drugs and alcohol, and she knew that she’d be OK. She called to thank me for helping her and other women have a way to stay free of HIV and other STIs. I should be thanking her, because she showed me that all the effort made a difference.

What special tips can you give FC users for how to use them best?
Practice makes perfect! Research shows that it can take up to three tries for women to become fully comfortable inserting and using a female condom. That’s why access to education and outreach, delivered by trusted peer educators and user-oriented materials is so important. And we have evidence that this approach works.

A P.S. from Scarleteen: some things we like to remind people about with the female condom that they might not know are:

  • For those sensitive or allergic to latex, the FC is one way to still be able to use condoms
  • Non-latex condoms like the FC can also conduct heat better than latex condoms, so some people may find that as far as pleasure goes, they prefer a non-latex condom
  • The FC can be used for anal sex as well as for vaginal sex
  • It covers more of the vulva (or rectum) than male condoms can, so it may provide extra protection from Herpes and HPV than male condoms
  • Unlike male condoms, FCs can be inserted into the vagina hours before intercourse
  • Some female-bodied people may even find that the external ring provides additional clitoral stimulation
  • Even if a male-bodied partner loses his erection, or it gets a bit softer (or a couple wants to start intercourse without a full erection), that's not a problem with the FC like it is/can be with male condoms
  • For male-bodied partners who complain the base of male condoms feel too tight, the FC solves that problem: no penis is as wide as the base of the FC
  • If you already use or have used a menstrual cup or a cervical barrier, learning how to use an FC is likely to be easy.

Comments

Hmm...

Tue, 2010-10-26 14:03
antigone

Ms Leeper states her greatest success story as that of a young woman in a relationship with a drug abuser who, although HIV positive, refused to use a condom to protect her? She actually had to secretly use the condom so that she could be safe from STI's.
Is that really the kind of message the FC people want to spread? "The female condom, paving the way to have sex with men who don't respect or care enough about you to wear a condom!"
Of all the success stories she had to choose this one... why?!

I absolutely hear you that

Thu, 2010-10-28 06:39
Heather Corinna

I absolutely hear you that stories like this are pretty rough, antigone.

At the same time, if we're telling the truth about our world, and the sexual and interpersonal realities of many people, these are actually very common stories. Obviously, in situations like this we want to do all we can to support and help people in leaving abusive relationships, however, that tends to be a process for most people in them, and something that can take some time, especially for people who are cohabitating, legally married, have children and/or are financially dependent on a partner.

So, "the the meantime" measures that can help prevent sexual health outcomes that may make life and leaving even more difficult can make a PROFOUND difference in the lives of people in abuse. If you become pregnant again, leaving is that much harder, so a Depo-provera shot someone can hide from an abusive partner, or a female condom someone can use to help prevent pregnancy and/or disease can really be a huge deal, and can help create an even better success story in which a person has less to carry or manage so they CAN leave in time.

The culture of rutting pigs

Thu, 2010-07-29 08:49
Anonymous

Is it progress for a civilization to focus on their sexual pleasure? When people are living for lasciviousness they are cheated out of the joys of the spirit and intellect. They become slaves to every impulse and women become a piece of meat to be used. Viruses can get through such flimsy plastic as these comdums, and the HIV virus is microscopic. Girls, keep your legs together until you marry. These companies such as Planned Parenthood want your abortions from these failed product because abortions are their bread tickets.

The sign says I shouldn't feed you, little troll...

Fri, 2010-07-30 10:27
Anonymous

...but you're just so cute.

So you've uncovered Planned Parenthood's diabolical secret: through all the thousands of years of humans enjoying sex for pleasure as well as for reproduction, as demonstrated through our art, language, religion, science, etc., it's all been leading up to one thing - abortions for profit! My god, how have we been duped for so long?

Also, anon, I take issue with your women-centric fears. As a man, I'm just as likely to become a slave to pleasure. Thankfully, I'm a functioning addict - despite a lifetime of having sex for pleasure with multiple partners, I managed to get married, have a kid, buy a house, hold a job, and have a social life, all despite my servitude to lasciviousness. I eat, I laugh, I cry, I write poems, I take photographs - all somehow without simultaneously having sex. It's tough, but I manage. Any other survivors out there?

...and you honestly expect

Fri, 2010-07-30 09:54
Heather Corinna

...and you honestly expect anyone to take you seriously, and assume you know anything about barrier use and sexual health, when you can't even spell condom? One assumes this is a fine example of how developed one's "spirit and intellect" can become when they follow your rules. Wow, sign me up!

Oh hey, I didn't realise FC's

Mon, 2010-03-15 21:11
thesaurosie

Oh hey, I didn't realise FC's could be *fun*. :)
They sound like a big plus in terms of avoiding STIs, even though I don't know how one could not notice their partner was wearing one.
I would refuse to have sex if my boyfriend wouldn't use protection. It's scary that not everyone has that freedom, and a relief that theynow have a way to deal with the short-term risks.

Yikes

Wed, 2010-07-21 11:51
Anonymous

That "success story" is so heartbreaking.

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