|The Female Condom and AIDS (UNAIDS, 1997, 8 p.)|
· A woman's equivalent of the traditional condom seems a simple idea, yet the "female condom" (worn within the vagina rather than on the penis) has been around for less than a decade. Available in an increasing number of countries around the world, it offers great promise for reducing the spread of HIV and AIDS.
· Cheap and reliable, the traditional condom (or male condom) is used by millions all over the world to avoid pregnancies. Until recently, it has also been the only barrier method for preventing the passing of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), including HIV, between two sex partners. Used correctly every time people have sex, it is over 95% effective against the transmission of HIV.
· The fact that the condom prevents transmission of other STDs such as syphilis or gonorrhoea is of additional importance to the fight against HIV and AIDS because people who have another STD are more vulnerable to being infected by HIV.
· The traditional condom is not the perfect method for everyone, however. For example, many couples dislike having to interrupt sex in order for a man to put one on. Up to 8% of people are allergic to latex, the main ingredient in most condoms. And many feel that it dulls sexual pleasure.
· In family planning programmes, it has been proven that a wider choice of contraceptive methods results in fewer pregnancies. The same has been found in testing of the female condom: adding this new option for protected sex results in fewer cases of unprotected sex.
· About 42% of the 22 million adults now living with HIV are women. Moreover, the proportion of women becoming infected with the virus is growing in every region of the world.
· Eight out of 10 infected women get the virus by having unprotected sex with an infected male partner.
Women's biological vulnerability to HIV through sexual intercourse is up to four times as high as men's. Yet women often have little control over whether a man uses a traditional condom or not. In many situations, women are reluctant or unable to say no to sex if the man refuses to wear one.
· Though usually requiring the agreement of both partners, in some cases the female condom can give a woman more control. Since it can be inserted hours before intercourse, it can improve protection in situations where consumption of alcohol or drugs may reduce the chances that a male condom will be used.
· A female condom is a soft yet strong polyurethane sheath, about the same length as a male condom but wider. A plastic ring at the closed end helps keep the condom fixed within the vagina during sex. A larger ring at the open end stays outside the vagina, spreading over the woman's external genital area.
· The female condom is safe and can be used without a prescription or medical supervision. Unlike an IUD or the pill, it causes no side effects such as bleeding or cramps.
· Polyurethane is less likely to break or leak than the latex which most male condoms are made of, and causes fewer allergic reactions.
· The female condom provides extra protection to men and women because it covers both the entrance to the vagina and the base of the penis. These are areas where STD sores make it easy for HIV to enter.