Rhiannon DiClemente (’16, Temple University Beasley School of Law)
In case you missed it, September 16 marked the third anniversary of Global Female Condom Day. Two decades since its introduction, the female condom hasn’t quite lived up to its potential. Today, less than two percent of all condoms distributed worldwide are female condoms. When our LSRJ chapter asks local organizations to donate condoms, we are usually sent boxes full of male condoms. On the rare chance that we do get sent a few token female condoms, they are often met with skepticism and laughter from the student body.
It’s true—the female condom is less intuitive and less familiar than the male condom. Some may call it aesthetically unappealing and technically difficult to master, but we shouldn’t give up on the female condom just yet…
The female condom is the only woman-initiated technology that prevents both unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs), making it an important tool in the fight against the spread of HIV. Women now account for more than half of the world’s population living with HIV. Worldwide, HIV and AIDS is the number one cause of death for women of reproductive age. In Sub- Saharan Africa, 72% of new infections among young people age 15 to 24 are women.
Despite these facts, I can’t even give these female condoms away to fellow students. Only 13% of people have heard of the female condom, and much fewer have ever used one. However, organizations like PATH, a global health non-profit, are working to reinvent the female condom. In 2012, the United Nations Population Fund released a new version of the female condom. The Gates Foundation has also awarded grants for a “next-generation condom,” male or female, that would be easier and more pleasurable to use. This is an important step. Greater variety in female condoms can help increase the odds that women even choose to use, or at least try, any female condom at all.
But putting more female condoms on the shelves is not enough. Advocates need to create education campaigns at the local, national, and global levels on the benefits of female condoms, including the fact that they give women the power to control safe-sex negotiation.
As an LSRJ chapter leader, I hope to start a larger conversation about the benefits, and shortcomings, of the female condom. I want to encourage women, including myself, to at least try one before we form an opinion about it. I want men to be involved in this discussion as well; there is no reason a man shouldn’t introduce a female condom to his partner. Normalizing female condoms in a conversation about pleasurable and safe sex is an important first step. With informed feedback, the unattractive, clumsy female condom can only get better.