Safely Sexy … Mookho Makhetha
A very long ago my friends and I got our hands on a female condom. It was during an informal sexual education colloquium with a nurse from the family planning clinic. For a reason I cannot quite remember, my friends and I carried out a little test. We took a male condom and a female condom and stretched the two as far and long as we could. Two people held opposite ends of each condom and pulled. After a couple of centimeters the male condom tore, a piece of which landed on my cheek. The female condom on the other hand went about a meter and did not give in. I don’t remember it breaking. Not a scientific lab study but at the very least this primitive test proved the female condom was more durable than its male counterpart.
So I wondered to myself, [why aren’t female condoms as popular as their male counterparts?] Why hasn’t this supposed symbol of women’s sexual liberation taken off? It gives the woman the power to protect herself without having to rely on or convince the man to wear a condom himself. I would like to assume that since science has offered us another alternative to have protected sex, on our terms (I speak of women here) many of us would jump on the bandwagon. However, many of us (well, many of the people I have spoken to) have been reluctant to use it. I went about my usual excavations of people’s thoughts, asking unsuspecting participants that same question. The responses were not very partial to the female condom. So, I decided to tally up a list of pros and cons of female condom use, FC for short. This is what I came up with.
Pro: The original FC is made from polyurethane and unlike latex, which is used for most male condoms, is less likely to cause allergic reactions. It is in fact recommended for people with latex allergies. The newer female condoms, FC2 (yes, female condom the sequel) are made from nitrile, which is purportedly cheaper to produce than polyurethane condoms. The FC and FC2 do not have any specific storage requirements and both polyurethane and nitrile conduct heat so well that the sexual sensation is not lost. You can also use it with water-based or oil-based lubricant. (I wonder if they could make a studded female condom, how would that feel?)
Con: The female condom is technically cumbersome! The condom itself is a slippery mechanism, difficult to manoeuvre at best. Most sexperts, doctors and sourced websites suggest that a woman may have to use the condom more than three times to get the hang of it. The most problematic issue is that to extract the FC, you have to be in a position where the manly seed does not spill out. (Sigh. But I suppose all condom use needs practice.)
Pro and Con: If a female condom is inserted too soon before intercourse, there is a plastiky sound during sex. It sounds like someone tip-toeing through a swamp polluted with Pick N Pay shopping bags. So, the condom has to be in the woman’s body for more than an hour or so before sex. In fact, the condom can be inserted up to 8 hours before coitus. In that regard, it does not really have to kill the spontaneity of the sex act. But let’s think about this for a second. Foreplay should (ideally) take about a couple of minutes (or hours) anyway. By the time you are ready for any type of intercourse, so too will the female condom. The condom is probably intended for long nights of passion, the type found in Mills and Boons, when his hard throbbing manhood must plunge into the longing, empty void. (A side thought, they allow these books into public libraries but will not allow DSTV to have a porn channel.) The FC might not be helpful for a quickie. Some folk could argue that it makes you look presumptuous to fit the female condom a whole 8 hours before prospective sex. Is it not the same thing as having condoms in your room though? Always ready and prepared just in case?
Pro and Con: Using a female condom is comparable to using a tampon. But the FC has lubricant to make it easier to insert than a tampon. Although, there is a large section of the population that do not like using tampons. My vagina protested to being frequently prodded with foreign objects after a life-changing experience with a super absorbent tampon. The vagina’s protest came as an attack of colossal period pains. I have since downgraded. My point is tampons take a while getting used to, the same goes for the female condom. Only you can say whether the initial discomfort is worth it in the end. Most female condoms have a ring which is used to insert the condom and stays inside during coitus. This inner ring of the FC has to stay inside to hold the condom in place and also so that the condom does not bunch up in side the vagina. I took one of those rings and albeit with a slight struggle, it went through my hand and fit snugly around my wrist. I gasped! Again, the FC takes some time getting used. But, there are new designs of the FC that have replaced the ring with a sponge that have taken off in India and elsewhere.
Con: Speaking of India and elsewhere, female condoms aren’t the most accessible type. Is the condom with a sponge available in South Africa? While you can get a pack of Lovers’ Plus or Trust from your nearest BP (or in the case of University students, free government condoms from dispensaries in the Library and residence bathrooms), the female condom is a little harder to find. They are often snuck somewhere deep in the complicated maze of medicinal products in the pharmacy. Or dispensed by medical staff at clinics and other medical centres I would rather not go to unless I am truly ill. I cannot even name an FC brand but Durex, Rough Rider, Casanova, Dr Lee’s condoms and such come to mind at the drop of a hat. Can you name any female condom brands? How much is a female condom anyway? The limited access might have more to do with the fact that [governments have invested more in male condoms than they have in female ones.] It costs about R1 to produce a male condom and about R6-7 to produce a female one. Even so, it would be nice to have the option. I still can’t tell the difference between a studded Rough Rider and a studded Durex condom but it’s still a ‘variety’. Even if companies and governments do not invest much in the FC, they could at least invest enough to make it an option in the stores.
Con: The female condom is not aesthetically pleasing. Neither is an erect penis, even if you did put in a Christmas box. (Remember Dick in a Box?) First of all, the outer ring of the FC stays outside the vagina so that you can pull it out, the same as the string on a tampon. This can make even the most sexually confident woman self-conscious. Second, the FC is sometimes defined as a pouch. A pouch. I find that disturbing if not off-putting to the marketing potential of the FC or the FC2. It does not help that the FC actually does look like pouch, almost like a child’s piggy bank. The FC is about the same length as a male condom but male condoms have to be rolled out, so you do not really know how long it is until it is on the penis.
But doctors and other sexperts suggest the outer ring can be used in sex play. Sex play. I imagine a private strip show, gyrating my hips in front my sexual partner, bending my body into impossible pretzel shapes, with a chair as my prop. At the end, seated on the chair, I spread my legs and insert the condom in front my partner. I imagine it would look as though I were playing with myself. My biggest concern is not inserting it while my partner watches but it is the ring dangling outside my naughty bits. I attempt another scenario where my partner inserts the condom for me as part of ritualistic foreplay, which is quite sexy. But that outer ring…I personally cannot imagine a scenario where the FC can be sexy. Can you?
Pro: The female condom has a failure rate of 5%, when used properly. The success of the female condom rests on the penis going directly into it during intercourse. Meaning that every time a man enters you, you must guide him into the condom holding the mouth of the condom in place. This might also be a con. My whole discussion has assumed the use of the FC for heterosexual sex. For homosexual men, the FC might also be helpful for anal sex but the inner ring must be taken out. However, there is a risk of rectal bleeding. I suppose lesbian lovers could use the female condom too but I am not exactly sure how.
Is reluctance to the use of the female condom a matter of under-conceptualised design by its makers, technological Luddites resistant to the waves of change, as they were when the male condoms first came on to the scene or is it something else? If you were to create the perfect condom or any other form of protection, what would it look like? Try the female condom at least once in your life (if you find one and with someone you trust) to see how you feel about it. You have nothing to lose really. If it does not work out for you, you will have a funny sexual story to tell your friends (or not).