Mark Francis Cohen’s article on the lack of choice in modern methods of protection against STDs (“Barrier Method,” 10/20) is thoughtful and, for the most part, accurate. His discussion of the female condom, however, isn’t quite complete. Truethe female condom is alarmingly large and bulky. True, it sometimes makes itself heard during moments of passion. And, certainly true, the price is way too high for most of us. What is missing from Cohen’s colorful description is the fact that for many men whose partners use the female condom, protected sex may suddenly become more pleasurable.
In 1998 and 1999, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to work on a project in Washington, D.C., interviewing women about their experiences using the female condom. After getting some samples and information on correct use, these women were asked to try it at least once, then come back a week or two later and let me know what they thought. Cool job, huh?
One of the most frequent statements I got from women was that their sexual partners really enjoyed sex with the female condom. Men said it didn’t feel tight, or pull at their pubic hair, or reduce the sensation of pleasure during sex the way a male condom can. Now, for those of us who know how difficult it can be to even ask a partner to use a condomnever mind actually get him to do itthink of the relief someone might feel at being able to say “Hey, I heard this feels a lot better than a male condom.”
There were plenty of other aspects of the female condom that were discussed in my interviews, many positive (such as being able to insert the female condom up to eight hours before having sex, having a new sense of control, and being able to offer a choice of one or the other instead of all or nothing), and many negative (difficulty of insertion, having to hold in place, its cost, its noise, and its unattractiveness). Some women hated it; others said they’d never use anything else again.
But for all of you out there who want to protect yourselves from HIV and other STDs and really really find male condoms unsatisfactory, at least there’s another choice that might enhance the joy you find in bed.
Finally, polyurethane is stronger and less likely to break or tear than latexthe fact that some studies show the female condom to be less effective may be the result of incorrect use rather than product failure. It’s too early to tell. And using female condoms is much more effective than not using anything. For more information on the project discussed in this letter see: Women & Health, Vol. 29, No. 3, 1999, pp. 97-114.