The story of “female condoms,” or internal condoms, is telling of a much larger narrative about women’s bodily autonomy and the government’s noxious hand in marginalized health issues. Similar to other vaginal birth control methods, internal condoms can be inaccessible, expensive and difficult to obtain.
There is a good chance cost considerations for traditional condoms have never cross your mind, as one can pick up a box of 12 for approximately the same price as a box of wine. You can also pick up external protection at the same place you buy boxed wine, as condoms are available in nearly every convenience store, bar, health center or university dorm hall across the country.
Access to condoms is seemingly abundant, as is consumer choice. You can find protection that’s flavored, temperature sensitive and made of a myriad of materials. External condoms even come self-lubricated now. According to a report by Vox, if one searched for “condoms” on Amazon, there are over 76 pages worth of FDA-approved external condom brands available for purchase.
However, the tale of internal or “female” condoms is a very different story indeed.
Internal condoms can be worn vaginally or anally, and can be in your body for up to 8 hours before intercourse- so you can skip the awkward condom fumbling mid-foreplay. There’s an external ring and internal ring, leaving all sensitive areas protected. Similar to the traditional external condom, they work to prevent pregnancy and STIs and have a 95% success rate.
Why then, have most people never used internal condoms, or let alone even heard of them? To begin, while there seems to be little to no difference between the production of external and internal condoms, the FDA regulates them much differently. Internal condoms, as of about a week ago, were labeled as Class III medical devices, which is described by the FDA as a device that “sustains or supports life, is implanted, or presents potential unreasonable risk of illness or injury,” with the likes of pacemakers and breast implants.
Although there is some good news! The concerted efforts of The National Female Condom Coalition (NFCC) has put pressure on the FDA to declassify internal condoms to a Class II medical device and re-name the condoms, “single-use internal condoms,” as opposed to “female condoms,” allowing them to be marketed to all genders. These changes are reported to take effect Oct 29, 2018.
This means that for the past 40 years, getting a female condom FDA-approved has been exponentially more difficult, expensive and time-consuming. This is why many safe-sex manufacturers shy away from producing internal condoms.
For the consumer, it’s just as difficult. At the moment, there is only one company that produces internal condoms- Veru Inc.’s FC2 Condom. Currently, the only way to procure this condom is to either A) get a prescription from your doctor, or B) Spend over $100 for a 12-pack mail-ordered from an international Walmart. Neither option is very pretty.
Why internal condoms are treated so glaringly different than external condoms is unclear, my best assumption is that it has a little something to do with misogyny and governmental indifference to womyn’s health care. However, there is still certainly a case to be made as to WHY we should be using internal condoms!
Ignoring all the hindrances to actually obtaining an internal condom, they’re actually quite handy in many ways external condoms are not.
If you’re interested in purchasing female contraceptives, talk to your doctor or a Planned Parenthood employee. Most birth control methods can be prescribed on a sliding scale basis depending on which state you live in. However, because of the recent rollback in contraceptive coverage under the Affordable care Act, a single internal condom could end up costing about $20. If you want a future where you can skip the expensive and nettlesome doctor visit, you can follow the efforts of the NFCC, whose current aim is to make internal contraception both more affordable and more accessible.
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