There are many reasons why women and men should advocate and use the female condom. Like the male condom, the female condom prevents unwanted pregnancy and protects from Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) such as HIV. In addition, the female condom gives women the option to take contraception into their own hands and allows men to share the burden of responsibility.
Please imagine the following two situations:
With the male condom: You’re excited, and you can tell she is too. The condom is in your left back pocket of the trousers that is lying on the floor. No, sorry, it must be the right one. You take it out, breathing hard. It slips from your wet fingers. You pick it up, try to open it but the silly thing again and again escapes your grip. Frustrated you pick a corner with your teeth and tear the package open. But no, you’ve also ripped the condom in two! Ok, next try; luckily you have more than one condom with you. This time you are smarter and dry your hands with a towel first. From the corner of your eyes you see that she’s getting bored. Now that you hold the thing in your hand, which side is supposed to face you? You force yourself to calm down. It’s that side. You put it on but you’re already getting soft, which makes it difficult to roll the condom down. And then, you’ve lost your erection altogether. Game-over.
With the female condom: You tell him you want him, and immediately he stands up to get the condom. But you pull him back down and whisper into his ear: “No need; I’m already wearing a condom inside.” One moment later, he is inside as well.
I admit that my illustrations show the extremes: on one hand the complete failure of the male condom and on the other hand the almost magic-like success of the female condom. We all know the world is not black and white like that. Nevertheless, it is a fact that the female condom does not interrupt a couple in action as much as the male condom does since the female condom can be inserted a few hours before intercourse. This is great for the man because, once he is ready, there is no need to put the condom in place anymore. Also, men who find the male condom too tight will be positively surprised by the female condom. For the woman, the advantage is that the female condom places her in a better position to insist on the use of contraception.
A fierce advocate of female condoms is Education as a Vaccine (EVA), which was founded because of the poor availability of sex education for young people in Nigeria. Without the right knowledge, how can they know what will be best for their sexual and reproductive health, and how can they make the right choices? One of the areas of EVA’s work is organizing outreach programmes on contraceptives, during which emphasis is placed on the benefits of the female condom. During an outreach in the FCT Abuja last week, EVA staff members, health workers from a local primary health centre and peer educators talked to about 25 young women. The female condom was discussed in detail, and its correct use was demonstrated with the help of an artificial vagina model. To make sure that all were able to follow this important topic, everything was explained in Pidgin English and Hausa.
Conducting small educational sessions like this is just one little step in getting female condoms in the hands of women. Working as part of the Universal Access to Female Condom (UAFC), EVA and other organizations such as the Association for Reproductive and Family Health (ARFH) advocate to make female condoms an integral part of family planning in Nigeria. The April 2011 Federal Government declaration has made all family planning commodities and services free at all public health facilities. So, with one of the barriers to accessing and using female condoms being addressed, why is it that only 14.7 percent of women know about female condoms and only less than half a percent (0.2%) have used female condoms (numbers provided by EVA)? According to Co-founder and Executive Director Fadekemi Akinfaderin-Agarau, the answer is that not enough resources are channelled to creating demand for the commodity. Majority of the funding that Nigeria is committing to family planning programs including the $8,350,000 committed at the London Family Planning summit, is used for procurement says Akinfaderin-Agarau. She also states that EVA and partners are working together to convince the Federal Ministry of Health to allocate resources towards a nationwide demand generation campaign on female condoms. When these large scale campaigns are paired up with small community level education session like the ones run by EVA, more women will understand the benefits of female condoms and will be more likely to ask for it at public health facilities.
Female and male condoms save lives if used correctly. They allow couples to prevent pregnancy and space their children, which reduces maternal and child mortality ratios (currently, there are 576 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births and 128 under-five deaths per 1,000 live births). Female and male condoms have an additional edge over non-barrier contraception methods since they also provide protection against STIs, including HIV (Nigeria is the country with the second-highest numbers of people living with HIV/AIDS after South Africa). Moreover, the female condom has the benefit over the male condom of reducing the stress on the man and empowering the woman.
So, next time you want to make love, ask for a female condom. Only demand will improve the supply.
To learn more about Education as a Vaccine, visit the organization’s website: http://evanigeria.org. EVA works in the areas of health, safety and education of adolescents and young people in several states in the North and South of Nigeria. The focus of EVA’s work is on HIV/AIDS and sexual and reproductive health. Also, watch the 2013 TEDxEuston Talk by Fadekemi Akinfaderin-Agarau on her motivation to found EVA and about some of the HIV/AIDS work the organization does. Last but not least, learn how to use the female condom correctly.