It was a Dutch organisation, Universal Access to Female Condoms (UAFC), that came up with the idea of selling cut-price female condoms sales in kiosks and hairdressers in West Africa. The group is on a mission to promote the female condom worldwide as a way to prevent unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV.
UAFC hands out two million female condoms a year in Cameroon and Nigeria. The organisation thinks they deserve to be more popular than they are.
The female condom has big advantages over the male version, says UAFC spokeswoman Nienke Blauw. For one thing, it gives the woman more control during sex.
A woman can put the condom in herself. With a male condom, you always depend on the man. Will he actually put it on at the crucial moment? Another advantage is that you can put them in earlier. You don’t have to wait till a man has an erection, and you don’t have to interrupt sex.
Spoiling the mood
But they’re not exactly selling like hotcakes at hair salon La Chance Beauté in Cameroon. Hairdresser Ngono says she gets between 50 and 100 condoms a month to sell at a knock-down price equivalent to 15 euro cents each. But she just can’t shift them. 'I give them away so the stock doesn’t pile up,' she says.
Customers who do give the female condom a try mostly don’t have a good word for them.
'This condom makes too much noise, like when you walk in wet leather shoes,' complains Christelle Makondo. 'The noise ends up spoiling the mood.'
'Normally, the condom should stick to the vaginal lips, but that was not the case when I tested it,' adds Edith Mbida. 'I had to hold it in place with my hands throughout intercourse. I think it’s a huge problem.'
'He couldn’t feel me and I couldn’t feel him,' says Annette Ngo Bilong. 'With some brands of male condoms, on the other hand, you can hardly feel the condom. I don’t mind protecting myself, but it shouldn’t be at the expense of my libido! That’s why I went back to using male condoms, which are more and more sophisticated.'
Nienke Blauw is keen to stand up for the underdog of the condom world. It’s true they used to be noisy, she says, but the latest models are much better.
What’s needed is more competition to drive down the price, she says. At the moment only one type, unromantically dubbed the FC2, has been approved by the World Health Organisation. That's the condom the women in Cameroon have been using.
But all being well, other brands will get WHO approval in the short-term, and they could start winning more women over.
From India, there’s the Reddy and the Cupid, for example, which have a little cushion to hold them in place against the neck of the womb, instead of a ring like the FC2.
And in China, they’re churning out the Woman’s Condom by the million. It’s like a sort of mini-tampon that opens like a parachute in the vagina. And they’re even working on a pink version with vanilla flavouring. Surely worth a try.
Have you tried any of these female condoms? We'd like to know what you thought! Leave a comment below or join the discussion on Facebook.