By Tahiat Mahboob  

When it first came out in the early nineties, the female condom had a lot of promise. It could prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. It could be put in place hours in advance so as not to ruin the mood. And most importantly, it gave women the control over practicing safe sex.

More:
The Safer Sex

Even though it has been around for 25 years and is available in 143 countries as of 2013, the female condom is a long way from being used globally and as frequently as male condoms.

Here are the challenges that have made it difficult for the female condom to gain mass popularity.

Physical Attributes

The female condom’s physical attributes play a key role in its lack of popularity. According to a 2007 New York Times report, couples complained that the female version was awkward, unsightly, noisy and slippery. The report quoted Mitchell Warren, a staffer at the Female Health Company, that made female condoms, saying “the yuck factor was a problem.” While added lubrication has reduced the noise issues, it’s still a bulky product.

Price

Two flexible plastic rings, more polyurethane or nitrile used, and manufacturing costs all make the female condom a pricier product than its male counterpart. While male condoms cost $1 per use, the first iteration of female condoms cost $3 per use. Since then the price has gone down to approximately $1.67. (But it’s still a more expensive product.)

Insertion

According to a 2010 study done at the University of Connecticut, insertion of the female condom also acted as a barrier to use. When women were asked if they were opposed to inserting the female condom, 33% of women said “yes.” When those respondents were asked why, most said that they would “feel insecure about proper placement since I don’t know how to use it properly” (80%) and they would “enjoy sex less” because of not knowing if they inserted it properly (70%). And getting the hang of it does take a few tries. In a BuzzFeed Health report, Dr. Lauren Streicher, an associate clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, recommended that women insert it once or twice on their own to get used to it.

Slippage and Failure

In 2005, a study done by the Guttenmacher Institute found that 11% of female condoms slipped out of the woman's vagina at first use. That number fell steadily to less than 1% if used 15 times or more. However, having to try 15 times or more to use it effectively added to its unpopularity. To make matters more complicated, even though the female condom’s failure rate was 5 percent when used perfectly, a study found that with typical use, its actual failure rate was closer to 21%.

Availability

While female condoms can be purchased online, in stores and accessed through health centres depending on location, they are still not as widely available around the world as male condoms. The lack of popularity and lack of manufacturers producing the product worldwide have led to a circular reasoning as reported in The Atlantic: “Female condoms are unpopular because they’re not widely discussed or available. And they’re not widely discussed or available because they’re unpopular.”