Wednesday, March 11, 2009

FDA approves new female condom

FDA approves new female condom

The Food and Drug Administration has approved a new version of the female condom, allowing it to be sold in the U.S. and distributed more widely across the world.

The agency?s decision was expected after an FDA advisory panel endorsed the product late last year. The condom is manufactured by the Female Health Company, based in Chicago.

The new version, made of synthetic rubber instead of polyurethane, is cheaper than the original female condom -- a long lubricated sheath anchored at either end by a flexible ring. When inserted, the closed end of the sheath is positioned high in the vaginal canal.

Though the material is different in the updated version, the design is not. Both products are equally effective.

Costs will run about 30 percent below current prices, making the product more affordable for individuals as well as public health organizations, according to Mary Ann Leeper, strategic adviser to the Female Health Co.

Because it was expensive, the original female condom never really caught on, although it?s the only way for sexually active women to take steps on their own initiative to avoid sexually transmitted infections. In the U.S., prices ranged from $1.15 to $2.75 apiece, depending on the means of distribution.

Meanwhile, marketing for the female condom was inadequate, by most accounts. Without a strong reason to try it, women stuck with better-known contraceptive options.

Now, the challenge will be persuading public health departments to distribute the updated female condom more widely and to educate more women about its advantages, said Catherine Christeller, executive director of the Chicago Women?s AIDS Project.

The primary advantage is control. Instead of depending on a man to use a condom for safe sex, a woman can choose to use one herself.

Linda Arnade, a 23-year-old woman who described using the female condom to me in December, recently gave a presentation to staff from the Chicago Department of Health on the product?s characteristics. Arnade is an advocacy coordinator with the Chicago Women?s AIDS Project.

Another challenge is to convince women the product can be sexy as well as safe, Christeller said. Groups like the Pleasure Project in the United Kingdom are promoting the message that safe sex using the female condom doesn?t have to be boring, she noted.

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