They’ve been called noisy, unwieldy and looking like a plastic bag. Although the female condoms were approved in 1993, they haven’t exactly been embraced. After a second version of the female condom was approved in 2009, HIV/Aids health campaigners began distributing them in major cities and offering training on how to use them at community centres.
The newest version of female condoms called FC2 uses non-latex material. The device looks like a long sheath with two soft rings at each end. One ring must be pushed with a finger into the female private organ, much like a tampon. The other ring remains outside the body.
The condoms are another tool to empower and protect women from sexually transmitted infections and pregnancy, health advocates say. But the question remains: Will women actually use them?
Recently Women and Aids Support Network Zimbabwe re-launched the female condom that is less noisy. This modified version is rectified by substituting polyurethane with nitrite. The condom was launched in Gokwe four days ahead of the World Aids Day on December 1.
While the proper use of a male condom is frequently demonstrated using a banana, health workers show how to use the condom using a vagina model or a hand. A local health expert, Edgar Mhizha said when tampons were first introduced, people cringed at the thought of insertion, but women eventually caught on.
“It’s the same deal with female condoms – it’s not complicated at all,” he said. “People have the idea it’s more complicated to use because no one has shown them how to use it.”
The device gives women some control in negotiating condom use, said HIV/Aids advocates. The reactions from female condom users have varied. A Gokwe resident, Taurai Machena, said although she likes the condom, men prefer the male condom because it does not have the same effect.
“As a woman I would rather use the female condom because I am protecting myself from diseases and unplanned pregnancies. Varume vanoti taste yacho inosiyana saka vanoda kushandasisa zvavajaira. (Men want to use the male condoms because the female condom gives a different kind of satisfaction),” she said.
Another local, Sifelani Dube, said her husband does not want to use the male condom and prefers the female one.
“My husband doesn’t mind using the female condom because he says it takes away the responsibility. He prefers the female condom because I can put it on in advance and does not disturb the flow of things. This makes it easy for me because I take medication and I don’t have to worry about drinking family planning pills. We should try introducing the issue of the female condom when our partner is well-fed, happy and free to talk about anything. Surely after two three years of being together one should know how to get what he or she wants,” she said.
Other men who were interviewed revealed they have never used it and did not like the female condom. Mutakazi Manonga said putting on the condom is complicated and it does not look secure.
“I don’t like the way you have to twist the condom in order to insert it. The whole twisting process, it just does not look secure. I think there are very few women using these condoms,” he said.
Condom promoters in Zimbabwe suggest married women can use the female condom as a means of protecting themselves for diseases and for child spacing.