Like the other version of the female condom -- the "FC" approved by the FDA in 1994 -- the second-generation "FC2" is made by the Chicago-based Female Health Company. Just as effective as its predecessor at preventing unwanted pregnancy, HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, the new version is made of nitrile, a cheaper material than the older version's polyurethane, and is 30 percent less expensive.Of course, the new female condom still has its downsides. It's prohibitively expensive compared to male condoms, and much more difficult to find. Further, the new female condom has not undergone an extensive redesign to make it more comfortable and easy to use -- that is still underway.
Cost estimates range from $1.40 to $2.10 for consumers and about half that for health care organizations that distribute it. The new condom has won support from women's advocates for its reduced price and because women can insert it without a sexual partner's help.
"Our interest in seeing a second-generation female condom comes from the changing face of the AIDS epidemic," says Kirsten Moore, president of the Washington-based Reproductive Health Technologies Project. "With the growing number of women becoming infected with HIV, we clearly need more and better female-controlled prevention options."
The women's health organizations that spoke before the FDA's Obstetrics and Gynecology Devices Advisory Committee included representatives of the Atlanta-based SisterLove; the Washington-based National Women's Health Network; and the Washington-based National Research Center for Women and Families. They will convene in Gaithersburg, Md., near the FDA's headquarters in Rockville, Md.
Eighty-seven U.S. advocacy groups and 50 international groups submitted petitions in favor of FC2. Other health authorities, such as the New York-based Guttmacher Institute, are submitting separate letters of support.
Health advocates say that if the government moves quickly in recommending FC2 approval, the new condom could be on U.S. pharmacy shelves -- and in the hands of aid organizations that distribute it worldwide -- some time in 2009.
But the fact remains that it's still an important development. Making the female condom less expensive is a step forward, even if its still more expensive than we'd ultimately like to see. And the female condom is still the only method of female-controlled STD prevention, meaning it's an important part of women's sexual health and empowerment.
One of the major obstacles that women face to using the female condom is an unfamiliarity with how to use it. That much, at least, can be cleared up immediately -- Planned Parenthood has all the information you need on how to use the female condom properly and safely.