Today, September 12, we celebrate the first Global Female Condom Day. Groups and organizations around the world will engage in various activities to raise awareness about female condoms. The goal is to answer either or both of two questions: "What is the female condom?" and "Why a female condom?" In a time when women's reproductive and sexual health has become a significant part of political and social discussions around the world, the answers to both questions highlight the importance of the day.
Let's first answer What is the female condom? The female condom is a barrier device for the receptive female or male partner (despite the name, the condom is for use by women and men) that offers protection for STIs and HIV and, for women, unintended pregnancy. There are three models on the market: the FC2 in the U.S.; and the Cupid Female Condom and the Woman's Condom internationally. Each offer an alternative to the traditional male condom with a design to allow for ease of use and cost-effectiveness compared to previous designs. Other advantages include that it can be inserted into the vagina or anus ahead of time, is not dependent on the male partner being fully erect, and, for the FC2, the material allows for use of both water- and oil-based lubricants. It is these advantages that enhance the sexual experience.
And that leads to the second question: Why the female condom? Female condoms have the potential to revolutionize safer sex for diverse populations around the world. Despite adding colors, flavors and textures, male condoms have still been viewed mostly as a means of making sex safer but not necessarily more pleasurable. The female condom not only empowers women and men, as outlined above, to be safer, but also sexier.
The female condom allows partners to be more creative in introducing safer sex practices in the relationship and incorporate more intimacy in foreplay activities without dependency on the male partner's "timing" or "sensation." We now can change the discussion from barriers to benefits.
In the United States, there are several cities with dedicated female condom campaigns:
All these cities are offering trainings, access, and distribution information regarding the FC2 female condom. Each city, along with other HIV/AIDS, reproductive health and justice, women's health, youth, and gay men's health organizations and advocates from around the world, has the aim of increasing the number of women, men, transpeople, and youth who know about, use, and advocate for female condoms on this first-ever Global Female Condom Day. Visit the National Female Condom Coalition website for more information.
Christopher Ervin is the director of development for Aniz, Inc., a community-based organization with branches in Georgia and Louisiana.