Is the female condom poised to make a breakthrough in America, where we've been mocking it for years? That's the question asked in The Atlantic this week. The article posits that even if the current female condom isn't making waves, a "sexier" version could do the trick.
The female condom has been suggested as another valuable option for safer sex ever since it was introduced in 1993. Also known as the internal condom, it can be inserted prior to sex for protection without the awkward stop to put a condom on while you're getting it on. Fans claim it's also useful for women with partners who refuse to put condoms on, although how this works is unclear since men will probably notice the tell-tale signs of a female condom when they're looking for a barrier-free experience. They're catching on in a big way in the developing world, but Americans are skeptical, and female condoms have a terrible PR rap.
In the spirit of taking one for the team, I gave it a go. Could I use a female condom easily, thus answering the eternal debate about whether it's too complicated to use? And would the sex actually be enjoyable?
WHAT WE USED
2. One penis
3. One vagina
WHAT WE DID
My willing lab partner and I set to with the usual pre-game activities, gradually ramping up to the appropriate moment. We weren't sure about the best time to whip out the female condom, and unfortunately, I didn't remember to put it in in advance like you're theoretically supposed to do, because we got caught up in the heat of the moment. This would also be why I fail at diaphragms.
We were somewhat flustered by the packaging, and also by the rather disappointing appearance of the female condom itself, which resembled nothing quite so much as a deflated, slimy bread bag with two plastic rings in it. I tried inserting it and it felt exactly like wedging a plastic bag into my vagina, so my lab partner tried repositioning it. It wasn't easy for either of us to use, and we weren't sure we were using it right.
While not uncomfortable, I could definitely feel the condom and I wasn't entirely on board with what I was feeling. My lab partner, on the other hand, viewed my plastic-lined vagina with extreme trepidation, but after a brief session to get things going again, he bravely delved in.
Surprisingly, having sex with a plastic bag feels a lot like having sex with a plastic bag, my lab partner reported. The female condom kept sliding around, making it difficult to determine if it was in right, and both of us were a little concerned about whether it was actually providing protection, which is not really something you want to worry about while having sex.
From my perspective, the periodic squelching plastic noises interrupted by long pauses as my lab partner tried to determine whether the condom was still secure were not very arousing. Both of us felt like we needed to move carefully to avoid dislodging it. The sex felt more like a medical procedure and we experienced decreased sensation on both sides.
When it was over, my partner slowly fished the internal condom out with a distasteful expression, and quietly conveyed it to the trash. The wrapper sat on the bedside table, glaring at us.
We lay side by side on the bed, staring at the ceiling. Neither of us wanted to talk, and neither of us really felt like it had been a very enjoyable sexual encounter. Given our previous baseline, the female condom experience was definitely a letdown.
"Let's not try that again," said my lab partner after our session. I was inclined to agree, despite my desire to attempt the experiment again to verify the results.
All in all, it was not a very satisfying experience. Our worries about dislodging the condom upset any of the possible benefits of spontaneity we might have experienced by inserting the condom earlier in the evening. Both my lab partner and I noticed it much more than a conventional condom, and were disconcerted by the noises it made.
Would it be possible to get accustomed to using it? Maybe, but the learning curve wasn't worth it for either of us. We were also unclear on how women could use it without upsetting partners who don't want to wear condoms, because if you don't want to wear a condom, you definitely won't enjoy sticking your penis into a plastic bag and gingerly wriggling it around.
Given the substantial developments in condom design, further investments in the female condom seem like a waste. It's an overengineered solution for a problem that's already being solved much more effectively. In addition, the high individual cost of the female condom creates a significant barrier when compared to single conventional condoms.
Furthermore, my lab partner pointed out, there's really no way to discreetly carry a female condom around. So much for spontaneity.