The conundrum of the female condom

The female condom initially received approval in the U.S. in the early 1990s, shortly after its approval in Europe. It's been tenacious, though not a wide-spread success. I remember the earlier advertisements with Drew Barrymore as one of its spokepeople, and I think she had a college tour through which my sexual health counselors' group tried to get her to come visit our campus. (Thank you, wayback!!)

In public health school, my group decided to focus our communications' class project on the vaguely outré device. During the health promotion project, it became clear to me that though conceptually interesting (female-control of sexually transmitted infections is difficult, nay impossible to find), the device did not really fill the more pragmatic side of motivating people to protect themselves during sex (awkward + noisy object does not really trump the protests of uncomfortable male condoms). Among safer sex promoters, their message often frames the female condom as an excellent and important alternative to the male condom. Even better, the female condom can be used for anal sex, as well as vaginal sex, making it as unisex as the male condom...maybe even more so. It also covers part of the external genitalia, possibly better protecting against STIs (HPV!!).

The female condom's manufacturers have gone back to the drawing board multiple times, improving the material of the condom (previously criticized as "too crinkly"). A number of major U.S. cities are promoting the condom as part of their safer sex campaigns. Consistently over the years, no one really addresses one of the most significant obstacles of using the female condom: it blocks female lubrication.

The female condom requires extra lubrication to be applied inside the condom before inserting the condom. From men's perspectives, the lack of a condom on their penis is supposed to be motivating and exciting. From a female perspective....well, I'm unclear how one's arousal patterns get taken into account. No one really knows what's going on, since there's a very large sheath covering the vaginal walls. This seems to me a rather significant impediment to female empowerment. How can one feel in charge of her own sexuality and sexual activity when there's no means to prioritize one's own sexual response? Most of the commentary about the female condom (see the CNN article linked above) make vague references to its awkward and large shape (it is supposed to dangle outside of the vagina, a very sexy prospect if I've ever heard one), but no one states the obvious: no natural lubrication.

While many people may use lubrication regardless of the absence or presence of a female condom sheath, shouldn't we be promoting more awareness of the importance of female sexual response?