The female condom and feminism: love or contradiction? (Part I)

In a country like Mozambique, where HIV prevalence in women is 13,1% versus 9,2% for men, a female condom would indubitably increase the negotiation power for women and offer a different option for safe sex that didn’t depend on the men.

As BBC stated recently, the biggest advantages are the fact that it can be inserted hours before sexual intercourse and that it gives the vulva more protection than a male condom and unlike the first generation of female condoms, the ones currently available don’t make a lot of noise nor have a flawed design.

In Maputo there are female condoms available and although not as much as male condoms, most women have heard about it and even tried it.

A local sales promoter tells me that her male clients are willing to try something new and take a few days off from the male condom. For them, it is an escape. Women, on the other hand, find it intriguing and usually buy it because of the packaging or prizes associated with promotional campaigns.

When talking about female condoms there is a focus on the liberation of women and their empowerment, almost ignoring the very basic nature of a condom: sex. A condom is supposed to be functional for both parties and if anything, add something to their users and not take it away.

The female condom however, is a one-size-fits-all tool. There hasn’t been a lot of investment in terms of different sizes, flavors, textures, materials or even colors.

The main concern seems to be the fact that foreplay won’t be interrupted and male sexual arousal will not be affected by the insertion of a condom. By doing this, men are only offered the fun parts of it, leaving women with all the worries.

On the BBC article, it reads “The female condom is not as tight for men” and the Origami website says “[it can] accommodate a range of penis sizes”. These statements focus sexual pleasure for women, and on a broader level the health of women’s sex lives, on the satisfaction of the men.

Implicitly, if women want safe sex then they should take all the responsibility. Is that what feminism is really about?

There’s the insinuation that female condoms are just for women and male condoms are just for men, when in reality both parts can and should participate on the decision of using a condom and which one to use.

More so, the rhetoric is always about developing countries. Whether it is India or Nigeria, female condoms seem to be good for third world women only. Western women are never the target for female condom use campaigns.

This exposes the reality of the aid industry and the power dynamics that play when it comes to strategic thinking and program designing for HIV prevention in poor/ rural areas. The decision makers, mostly western white middle-class women are unaware of the class differences, racial discrimination and even the fight for democratic governments that play a part in the lives of the women they so want to help, and often impose a feminism centered exclusively on gender inequality.

As bell hooks beautifully said “feminism is for everybody”, but everybody needs to be aware of the environment and people to which they want to direct feminist agenda to and the issues said feminism will tackle.

The relationship between our politics and our sexualities is not always peaceful. Emotionally and intellectually the female condom may appeal to most women – I love the idea of the female condom, but the practicality of it is another story.

2 thoughts on “The female condom and feminism: love or contradiction? (Part I)

  1. I’m impressed by the way you have written down your mixed feelings. It’s so true: in the ideal world, the choice for the kind of condom should be made by a woman and a man together. Hopefully in all countries all over the world people will be able to make this choice in the nearby future. Funding for HIV prevention is one of the main causes of why female condoms are better accessible in countries with high HIV prevalence. But there’s some movement in countries with lower HIV prevalence as well. Female condoms are gaining more popularity in the US and France. This also happens because people are looking for other contraception methods. Last year the French government launched with information about birth control methods, including the female condom.

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