TOPE OMOGBOLAGUN examines the difficulties females face in using condoms made specifically for them
I have never seen a female condom before neither have I used it for once,” said Mrs Booky Glover who has been married for about seven years with three children.
Glover’s case mirrors the situation of many Nigerian women who have only heard of the condoms but never used them. Some of them have not even heard of it.
The female condom is one of the seeming scarce commodities in Nigeria as most of the women who spoke with Sunday PUNCH said they hadn’t seen it before.
Online sources describe the female condom as a long plastic pouch, usually made of nitrile, a manmade latex-free rubber. The condom goes inside the body during sex and the flexible rings at both ends hold it in place. The condom lines the walls of a vagina and collects semen and other fluids.
Our correspondent who got a pack of the condom observed that before opening it, one could feel the double edges neatly folded. It’s oily like the male condoms and the end are a soft, loose-fitting cylindrical pouch with a ring on each end; a big open end and a small close end. To use it, one of the rings, the small closed side has to be inserted into the vagina. One ring is inserted into the vagina to hold it firmly in place.
The close end inside the vagina walls holds the semen after sexual activity and usually drawn out in a way that the fluid would not pour out.
Glover noted that the female condom wasn’t available and accessible like the male condom. She said, “I don’t even know where to get it. Besides, the male condom is what is common everywhere. Why we don’t hear much about female condoms or get it easily is a wonder.”
A report in Pan African Journal indicated that more than half (69.9 per cent) males and between 20-25 years of age (61.2 per cent) have heard about female condoms but only 16.8 per cent have seen it. Almost half (47.9 per cent) of the respondents have heard about female condoms, however, only 16.8 per cent have seen it while 4.3 per cent have used a female condom.
These statistics seem true. Like Glover, a bank worker, who identified only as Mrs. A, said that she had never seen a female condom nor used it.
She said, “I have no knowledge of a female condom because I have nothing to protect myself from. I am in the early years of my marriage so I am still within the conceptual period. Hence, I am not trying to protect myself from giving birth nor am I scared of any sexually transmitted diseases. I am sure of myself as much as I am of my husband.”
For a mother of one and an engineer, Mrs. Gbekeleoluwa Onobote, the idea of a female condom sounds strange. She simply said, “I find it weird wearing a female condom. I have never been interested in it so I don’t even know anything about it. It just sounds weird to me.”
Female condoms’ scarcity
An Ibadan, Oyo State-based teacher and entrepreneur, Mrs Dupe Adedolapo, said she learnt there was a female condom but never seen it physically other than in diagrams.
She said, “I have never seen a female condom before. But I think I have an idea of what it looks like. I have seen it on the television and a women’s book I once read. Since I have never held or seen it physically, there is no way I could have used it.”
Another research published in the Journal of Reproductive Health stated that out of almost half (47.9 per cent) of its respondents had heard about female condoms but only 16.8 per cent had seen. Out of the 16.8 per cent, only 4.3 per cent had used a female condom.
Like others, Oluwatomilola Eniola, also has not seen a female condom before. “I have never seen a female condom before; I don’t even know what it looks like. If I should come across it, I don’t think I’d want to use it.”
Also speaking, an entrepreneur and a student, Deborah Wilson, said she had seen a female condom before but wouldn’t be comfortable using it.
She said, “Well, I have seen a female condom before but I haven’t used one before. I have implants to avoid pregnancy so I don’t need to use a condom. The man using a condom is enough. I think people use protection just to be freaky but I always feel it won’t be comfortable.’’
Wilson stated that though she had not used a female condom before, she knew about its usage. She explained, “Female condoms are worn inside the vagina before any sexual activity. It can slip into the vagina during sex, but it’s easy to remove by oneself when it happens. Female condoms may not be suitable for women who are comfortable touching their genital area.”
A civil servant and a mother, Adebo Oluwayemisi, said she knew the use of a female condom but usually uncomfortable with its insertion in the vagina. She told Sunday PUNCH that she learned how to use it when she went for family planning classes.
Oluwayemisi stated, “I don’t use it because I feel it might be uncomfortable for me because of the way it’s inserted. They taught us about its uses when I went for family planning.”
On her part, a medical practitioner and mother, Mrs Lisa Adeniyi, said she had heard of it and knew much about it but usually uncomfortable wearing it.
She said, “I know what a female condom is and I have seen it, though I have not tried it. I won’t try it because it involves me inserting it into my vaginal wall. I don’t like anything like that. I don’t like the discomfort and slight pain sensation during insertion which I was told it involves.”
Also, a business analyst, Abiola Abosede, said that she had held a female condom as she once served as a health worker but had not used it.
Abosede said, “Female condoms are larger and thicker than that of the males. Once you insert it into the vagina, it would come out again. In the end, the tip would be outside but most females don’t use it because they don’t feel comfortable about it and they don’t know how to use it.
“I got to know about it when I was working with the First Aid Society. Back then we gave some female students but they didn’t appreciate it. They laughed about it and only few of them saw it as something serious. They said a male condom is small and easy to use. Once you put it on and the guy has an erection, it will expand.
“I have heard of it but not seen one before. It’s not available everywhere like a male condom. I don’t use it because I don’t know how it is used.”
Stereotypes, finance, others discouraging use
The condom is available in some family planning units but our correspondent visited eight pharmacies to confirm its availability. But only one pharmacy has it.
In one of the pharmacies, the attendant said she could get from one of their branches but would take 30 to 45 minutes for delivery to the branch she’s.
A male condom is sold between N250 and N1,000 depending on brand while a pack of a female condom is sold for N3,900 depending on the type. This means that a female condom is more expensive.
Besides, while a male condom is sold over-the-counter, the female condom is available mostly at general hospitals, family planning units or pharmacies at high prices.
The stereotype associated with getting the condom probably stems from the low awareness of its use. For every pharmacy that our correspondent visited and asked for a female condom, there was a stern, probing stare which most men don’t get when they request condoms at pharmacies.
Some of the pharmacy attendants who spoke with our correspondent said there a low demand for female condoms hence the reason they don’t stock them.
One of the attendants, identified only as Ijeoma said, “Women don’t usually ask for condoms. I guess they feel safe by their partners’ protection. They don’t like to wear it. There was a time we stocked them but when no one requested and they were about expiring, we started to give it out freely to our customers. I believe nobody wants to embark on unprofitable business.’’
We don’t encourage our wives to use female condoms — Men
Although scare, some men who knew about the condoms said they had seen it once or twice but not comfortable with their partner using them.
One of them, Mr Seye Oladele, who is a teacher, said he didn’t like his wife use condom during sex. According to him, using female condoms makes sex less pleasurable. He said, “It’s as if one is having sex with nylon. Unlike the male condom with which you can enjoy sex, with a female condom, the story is different.”
Arguing in same vein with Oladele, Mr Sunday Imoh, said though unmarried, he cannot stand the thought of having sex with a partner wearing female condom.
He said, “I have seen a female condom before and I know how it is used, so I don’t think I will like my partner to wear it. It will turn me off mentally knowing that I will be inserting my manhood into a rubber.”
Also, Mr Mathew Isaac said sex with someone wearing a female condom cannot be palatable.
He said, “Everything about the female condom is odd. The first time my partner used it in my presence, it wasn’t a nice experience at all. Even the process of inserting it in the body wasn’t easy. Thereafter when we had sex, it wasn’t pleasurable for both of us.
“We were both uncomfortable with the thing inside her unlike the male condom that one wears and it expands as one has an erection. Ever since then, I have resolved never to have sex with a partner using a female condom.”
In his submission, a dentist, Dr. Juwon Jolaoso, said though he wasn’t well informed about the female condom, he found it weird allowing his wife use it during sex.
He said, “My wife and I need to have babies, so we don’t use condoms. Also, we are both safe, we aren’t involved in any acts of promiscuity therefore the use of condom by any of us is not needed.”
Awareness on female condoms low — Experts
A family physician, Dr. Rotimi Adesanya, said that contrary to the general belief, female condoms weren’t scarce being readily available at clinics.
Adesanya added, “I think the reason why it is not popular is because it came after the male condom. Hence, it’s advertised less than the male condom.
“The female condoms are not scarce for they are available at family clinics. The reason why the male condoms are everywhere is because they are cheaper and available than the female condoms. Most family planning clinics give female condoms out for free and they are available at most registered hospitals and pharmacies nationwide.”
He added that there was no description to buy a female condom, adding that a buyer only needed is to walk into any registered pharmacy and request to the condom.
Saying that, ‘the level of awareness on the condom is low compared to the male condoms’, Adesanya noted that females condoms weren’t available over-the-counter.
He stated, “The reason why we don’t have female condoms in pharmacies all over is because there is a low demand. The explanation is that there will be low patronage due to the low level of knowledge and acceptance of female condoms which will amount to loss to the sellers.’’
Also, another medical doctor at the General Hospital, Gbagada, Dr. Abideen Gbolahan, while speaking with our correspondent, said female condoms were free at the hospital but not popular among women.
He said, “The female condoms are free but it is not popular among women. In fact, they don’t like it. They don’t like to use it because the process of putting it on is quite cumbersome I must say. When people come for family planning, they chose other family planning methods and the male condoms but they hardly opt for the female condoms. Out of the family planning methods, the use of female condoms is the least embraced.’’ (Sunday Punch)