Female condom: the Origami extends out to the cervix.

Female condom: the Origami extends out to the cervix. Photo: Origami

When the female condom was first launched in the early nineties, the US team that created it were expecting it to be a colossal success. Sexual health experts even declared it a game-changer. But they could not have been more wrong; the product was a monumental flop.

In the decades that have passed the scientists behind the female condom have been tinkering with the design, and they think that this time round, it is going to take off.

There are several options to choose from. The "Origami" condom is packaged as a teat-shaped capsule that expands like a concertina when inserted. It is made from silicone so can be washed in the dishwasher and re-used.

The "Women's Condom" looks like a tampon, with most of the condom gathered into a rounded polyvinyl capsule, which dissolves inside the vagina. And the vanilla scented "Cupid", contains a sponge, which makes it easy to insert, and prevents it slipping.

But while the female condom is ready for market, is the market ready for the female condom?

Austin Chesterfield, senior marketing manager for Australian condom manufacturer Ansell, thinks that the demand for a female condom in Australia is very low. In Chesterfield's view, usability and comfort are the main obstacles.

“One of the barriers to use of the common male condom is that some people find these types of condoms difficult to use; by comparison, female condoms are more complicated to use and are generally perceived to be less comfortable to wear,” he explains.

Sexologist Nikki Goldstein says that there are lots of benefits to the female condom and that it is a great way for women to take control. However she doesn't think that they will ever be a hit in Australia.

Goldstein also notes that lot of women see contraception as the “man's job”, and would never consider using a female condom.

“We live in a very male-dominated penetration society. It is the man's job to deliver pleasure, it's the man's job to organise protection. Until we shift this attitude women are not going to realise that they have the right to take control of safe sex measures.”

But the main criticism, observed by Goldstein is that the female condom makes a “horrible noise.” “Women are very mentally driven when it comes to sex, so it's important that they don't get stuck in their heads, when they're in the moment. The noise is very offputting,” she explains. “I think that's why women that do try them, don't try them again.”

Rebecca Griffin, 35, from Melbourne, says that she researched the female condom when she was looking for an alternative contraception.

“When I looked into it the only benefit I could see is that it protects against STI's, just as a normal condom would, but unlike a normal condom it is difficult to use, and it's more expensive.”

Griffin also thinks that any difficulties in inserting the female condom would “take the romance out of sex”.

However some Australian women are more open to the idea of the female condom. Carly Brown*, 31, is concerned about the potential side-effects of taking the pill and thinks that the female condom is a good alternative. “I'd be interested in using it because I don't want to use the pill or other hormonal treatments.” Brown also believes that embracing the female condom could be a symbol of equality between herself and her partner.

Although Australian women are not overly keen on the idea, the female condom is proving successful in other parts of the world, particularly Brazil and South Africa. One enthusiastic reviewer on undercovercondoms.com described it as the “best thing since sliced bread.”

So while the Australian market might not be quite ready, it's entirely possible that the female condom's day will come … eventually.