Female condom 2.0

The FDA approves a new version of the historically unpopular prophylactic.

Published March 12, 2009 1:50PM (EDT)

Ah, the female condom. It's large, unwieldy and expensive. It looks like what you might get if a jellyfish mated with a slinky. And it's only 75-82 percent effective. While fantastic in theory -- what's not to love about a woman-controlled, non-hormonal pregnancy and STD prevention device? -- the female condom is not exactly a dream in practice. Well, I assume it isn't. You see, I'm so freaked out by the prophylactic's many shortcomings that I've never actually used one.

Now, a new female condom is headed for the American market. On Wednesday, the FDA approved the device, known as FC2. Manufactured by the Female Health Co., which also developed the original female condom, the new version will be 30 percent less expensive than its predecessor, thanks to cheaper materials and a more efficient manufacturing process. Unfortunately, though, according to Female Health Co.'s press release, "FC2 has the same design, appearance and use as the FC1" and isn't any more effective, either.

But that doesn't mean we shouldn't celebrate its approval. As it turns out, the female condom has been instrumental in global HIV/AIDS prevention programs since the original version was approved in 1993. Because FC2 is significantly cheaper than FC1, the United States Agency for International Development can now either cut the cost of distributing female condoms to the organizations it works with or simply provide more of them for the same price. Since approving the device in 2006, the U.N. has already distributed more than 23 million FC2 condoms in 77 countries.

Sure, it would be lovely to have an attractive, user-friendly, 99 percent effective female condom on American drugstore shelves. But for now, any new weapon in the global war on HIV/AIDS gets my thumbs up.

By Judy Berman

Judy Berman is a writer and editor in Brooklyn. She is a regular contributor to Salon's Broadsheet.

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