The Female Condom: Views and Experiences

Family Planning NSW has published the results of their exploratory study, 'Views and experiences of the female condom in Australia', which found that while use of the female condom in Australia is low, once provided with a female condom, many women would consider using it again.

Researchers provided more than 280 sexually active women in NSW with three female condoms, and asked them to complete a follow-up survey detailing their experiences after use.

Approximately half of the participants rated the sensation and comfort of the female condom as the same or better than the male condom, and 66% reported that it provided the same or better lubrication.

The study also revealed around half of participants experienced some difficulty in inserting the female condom. Family Planning NSW senior research officer Dr Jessica Botfield noted that improper insertion can reduce its effectiveness as contraception.

"Many women will benefit from a demonstration of how to use the female condom if they’re interested in using this method, and should practice its insertion before use," Dr Botfield explained.

"Although the female condom is 95 per cent effective as contraception with 'perfect use', it can be as low as 79 per cent effective with 'typical use'," she said.

However, Dr Botfield says the results of the study are encouraging and support the importance of raising awareness and increasing the availability of the female condom.

The female condom is the only female-initiated method of protection available for both unintended pregnancy and sexually transmissible infections (STIs).

It can be inserted into the vagina before sex, allowing women to exercise greater autonomy over their own contraception and the prevention of STIs. The female condom is also suitable for people who are allergic or sensitive to latex, and can be used with a range of lubricants.

"Female condoms are pre-lubricated and some studies suggest that use of the female condom may actually enhance pleasure," explained Dr Botfield.

Despite these benefits, there are several barriers to uptake of the female condom in Australia. The female condom is not as widely available as the male condom and is relatively expensive, costing between $10 and $15 for a pack of three.

The qualitative results were published in a separate paper entitled 'The female condom: What do women say?'. This paper explored the participants' views on the accessibility of the female condom, aspects of empowerment and control associated with its use, and views and experiences of gendered language in its name.

This paper found that accessibility of the female condom could be enhanced through the consideration of inclusive language and messaging in future health promotion and marketing campaigns.

Dr Botfield said the study provides a foundation for future research, including research that includes the perspectives of male, transgender and gender diverse people.

For more information about the female condom, read this Family Planning NSW factsheet or contact Talkline on 1300 658 886.

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