On “Sincerely Held Religious Beliefs” and Being a Counselor »« Occasional Link Roundup

Stop Hating On Female Condoms For No Real Reason

Every time I do this I feel like I’m a really lazy blogger who’s just going for the low-hanging fruit*, but I feel compelled to once again criticize a Jezebel article.

Tracie Egan Morrissey, whose writing is usually quite good, has written a post called “Stop Trying to Make Female Condoms Happen.” The post is what I can only call a screed against female condoms–a strange target for an online takedown.

Morrissey writes:

After never really catching on in the 30 years since its invention, the female condom has received a redesign with the hopes that women will change their minds about wanting to line their vaginas like a waste paper basket.

She then notes that female condoms absolve men of the responsibility for providing birth control, which they hardly ever have to do:

Don’t get me wrong, it’s great that these methods afford us the ability to control our own bodies. But putting on a condom is like the only time that men are ever held accountable in their role of preventing pregnancy or the spread of STDs. They shouldn’t be exempt from that obligation. And it just seems like female condoms enables them to think that they are. Or worse: to not think about it at all.

On a different note, female condoms are just ew.

It’s a short post; that’s about all there is to it. In the process, Morrissey ignores a whole slew of relevant facts about female condoms:

  • Female condoms are made not out of latex but out of polyurethane or nitrile, which means that people who have latex allergies can use them.
  • Because they’re not made of latex, you can use them with oil-based lube in addition to water- and silicone-based lube.
  • Many male-bodied folks say that female condoms feel better than male condoms because it’s less restrictive and there’s more friction on the penis.
  • With female condoms you don’t have to worry about losing your erection or having to pull out immediately after you cum, and they’re also much less likely to come out than male condoms are to slide off.
  • Because female condoms also cover some area around the vaginal opening, STI transmission may be reduced.
  • Unlike male condoms, you can put them in hours before having sex if you don’t want to worry about it in the heat of the moment.
  • The outer ring of the female condom can stimulate the clitoris.
  • They can also be used for anal sex if you take the inner ring out.
  • Because they’re not stretched tight over a penis, female condoms are much less likely to break, and also, unlike with male condoms, there’s really no chance that the penis will be too big for the condom.
  • If you don’t have health insurance and don’t have sex very often, female condoms can cost less than hormonal birth control (although they do cost more than male condoms).
  • If your partner refuses to use a male condom, they may still be willing for you to use a female condom (a reality for victims of abuse that Morrissey completely denies in the comments section)

Do female condoms have disadvantages? Sure. They can be a bit tricky to put in until you’ve had some practice, and if you’re not paying attention the penis can slip in between the outside of the condom and the vaginal wall, which defeats the whole purpose. As I mentioned, they do cost more than male condoms, although you can sometimes get them for free at health centers. Like male condoms, they can cause chafing and you’ll need lube.

But all birth control methods have pros and cons, and it’s important to know about them in order to make an informed choice. Morrissey ignores both the pros and the actual cons of female condoms, instead dismissing them because “ew.” Which I don’t even understand, because they’re just the inverse of the male condom, so they’re not ickier than that.

The point she makes about male condoms being the only type of contraceptive that male-bodied people have responsibility for is a good one. It’s reasonable to expect that a male-bodied partner help with contraception, and it is really unfortunate and unfair that most of that responsibility falls on women. However, partners can still split the cost of birth control to make it more fair, and furthermore, because many people simply prefer female condoms, it’s not necessarily the case that women are being “forced” to take responsibility for it when they don’t want to.

However, the more salient point, which Morrissey also ignores, is that female condoms can be literally life-saving for victims of abuse and for sex workers, whose male partners may be unwilling to use male condoms but who may nevertheless accept the use of female condoms (and maybe they wouldn’t, but sometimes they do and that makes the effort to increase awareness and access to female condoms worthwhile). That’s why female condoms are being used to help prevent the spread of HIV, for instance.

Not every method of contraception will work for everyone. If Morrissey is so grossed out by female condoms, that’s perfectly fine! She doesn’t have to use them. But a blog about women’s issues should be promoting accurate, helpful information about birth control that will help people make these important decisions, not just knee-jerk reactions like “ew” that have no grounding.

This is especially the case with methods that are less popular and not very well understood even though they could potentially be very helpful to people. Morrissey’s post was actually a response to a news story saying that the female condom has been updated and improved so that they no longer make an awkward rustling sound, except that this actually happened in 2005 and the website Morrissey linked to seems to be a bit slow on the uptake. Even if you don’t like female condoms, isn’t it good that they’re being improved?

In any case, I for one am very glad that people are still “trying to make female condoms happen” for those who may really need them.

*There’s a good chance that this article was just clickbait, in which case it’s feasible that someone might disagree with my decision to write about it. However, it’s good to keep in mind that Jezebel is an extremely popular blog whereas mine is, let’s just say, indie, so whatever relatively meager number of hits I give them will be offset by the fact that a bunch of you have probably just learned a lot of useful facts about female condoms that you didn’t know before. Yay!

And look, at least Kate and I are really excited about female condoms!

Photo on 3-11-13 at 10.59 PMPhoto on 3-11-13 at 11.02 PMPhoto on 3-11-13 at 11.03 PMPhoto on 3-11-13 at 11.03 PM #2

Comments

  1. Kate Donovan says

    ALL of the derpfaces.

    Also, yes, that first one does look like me about to take a bite out of the packaging.
    BEST procrastination.

  2. says

    LOL. I love the last picture. Kate looks like she’s swooning at the very thought of it all and Miri appears to be trying a non-recommended usage for a female condom.

  3. says

    Hear hear. I don’t know why anyone would want to take a tool out of the box cause its “icky”.

    “However, it’s good to keep in mind that Jezebel is an extremely popular blog whereas mine is, let’s just say, indie, …” We’re just reading before everyone else realizes you’re cool. ;p

  4. says

    Well, how did a friend of mine say?
    “Left wing opportunism says ‘all or nothing’ and then always goies for nothing”
    So, should men take more responsibility? Yes!
    Should men put on a condom without even blinking an eye (allergics excempt)? Absolutely!
    Are they doing so right now, especially in developping countries and sexwork?
    Sadly no.
    So, to say that we shouldn’t have something that enables women nevertheless to prevent STIs and unwanted pregnancies and thereby accepting that women will die of Aids and experience unwanted pregnancies sounds like a pretty big fat amount of “nothing” to me.

    Also: great pictures. Now get back to work.
    Me too, I have a term paper to write.

    • says

      “Left wing opportunism says ‘all or nothing’ and then always goies for nothing”

      Yes, yes, yes. As much as it pains us sometimes, it’s extremely important to be practical and to always privilege the daily realities of the people we’re trying to help over our lofty idealistic goals for them.

      Now get back to work.

      Grumpy Cat says

  5. Nienke Blauw says

    Very good reply to the terrible Jezebel blog! Thanks a million from a big female condom advocate!

  6. says

    I’ve been involved in HIV education since almost the beginning of HIV education. I usually describe them as the “female” condom because while I know a lot of people who use them, few of them identify as female. (That is probably TMI, sorry.)

    Regardless of air-quotes or not, the item is designed to address some of the real and perceived shortcomings of the traditional condom. More importantly, it gives women an option for STD prevention rather than having to relying on a male partner, and one with more advantages. I’ve talked to women who have used them and didn’t like them, but it seems an odd step to go from that to “stop trying to make them happen.”

    • says

      (That is probably TMI, sorry.)

      Gregory, you should know by now that there is no such thing as TMI on this blog. :P

      But indeed, I think a more descriptive name would be “insertable condoms” or something, but obviously that hasn’t caught on and if I said that few people would know what I’m talking about.

  7. says

    Yay miri! Thanks for this.

    I don’t know why people are so grossed out by female condoms. If the problem is that in the past they were icky/didn’t work/made noise, then we should be excited that they’re better now! If the problem is that they’re “like trash-can liners for your vagina”… then some Jezebel writers need to grow the fuck up. Male condoms are like rubber straight-jackets for penises, and I’m still a big fan. Unflattering analogies are unflattering, big fucking surprise.

    And regarding the “then men don’t have to be responsible” line… provided your responsible dude knows what he’s doing, I see no problem with him aiding in the insertion process. Just sayin’. And where is the love for latex-allergic guys with unusual-sized penises, who can often have a bitch of a time finding male condoms they’re comfortable in?

    Rargh. Anyhow, nice job on the takedown. It’s unfortunate that the bestest writers are often hidden away on the “indie” blogs instead of educating the masses, but on the bright side, it means getting to know you before you were cool. :P

    • says

      Thanks, Keely!

      I agree that she really failed to differentiate female condoms from male ones in that regard. And actually, that makes me sad because it really reminds me of the tendency in general to view things related to female sexuality as disgusting (vaginas, etc.) while their male equivalents are not viewed that way at all.

      Ironically, I nearly applied for an internship over at Jez once. :P Maybe I’ll still do it someday, but I feel like this blog would suffer for it and I don’t want that. Besides, I’d have the worst cognitive dissonance while writing at Jez. But it’d be a great learning experience, so I don’t know.

  8. says

    Yeah, a female condom wouldn’t be very helpful for me — I have Issues around penetration, and go into every sexual encounter not knowing whether I will be able to insert/have anything inserted into my vagina or not, so contraception that has to be inserted is a non-starter for me — but I definitely think there should be as many different kinds of contraception as possible, just because I know everyone has different lists of what they need from their contraceptive method, and what they need their contraceptive method not to do.

  9. dianne says

    I quite like female condoms for all the reasons listed. Plus, if your partner puts them on for you, they work as a sex toy. Of course, I’m one of the last few people in the world to use a diaphragm regularly, so I’m almost certainly a weirdo.

  10. Tori says

    Huh. It’s almost like we should:

    — Provide as many safer sex options as possible.
    — Provide accurate, objective, stigma-free information about the pros and cons of each method.
    — Then let people be in charge of their own damn genitals. ;)

  11. Freya says

    Hey! I am a first time reader and found your blog through a link on Feminsiting. Great job arguing for a broader assortment of safer sex tools!

    I have been also working in hiv prevention work for a few years in Sweden and would just like to expand your facts on the “female” condom.
    – They are not only in non-latex materials, there is also a “female” condom in latex called WOW or worn of women (which is also a problematic name…). Though as this one is latex you are limited to water and silicon based lube.
    – You are 100% correct that “female” condoms are a great solution to most condom problems (not comfortable, wrong size, etc.). Additionally, with most “female” condoms you can insert them a few hours in advance so one can avoid the “interruption” of putting on or in the condom during sexy times.
    – A region in Sweden called Västra Götaland (the area around Göteborg) has coined the term Vagi-anal condom which we use often in our work. This removes the problematic gendering that happens when saying “female condom” as well as does not advertise for one specific brand. The website is in Swedish but you can find out more about Västra Götalands hiv prevention work here (http://hivprevention.vgregion.se/sv/Primarvarden-Goteborg/Ovrig-primarvard/Hivprevention/)

  12. Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :) says

    The point she makes about male condoms being the only type of contraceptive that male-bodied people have responsibility for is a good one. It’s reasonable to expect that a male-bodied partner help with contraception, and it is really unfortunate and unfair that most of that responsibility falls on women.

    Yes. SCIENCE WHERE THE FUCK IS *MY* PILL? D:

    They can also be used for anal sex if you take the inner ring out.

    …why do you have to take the ring out?