1972 Sex Positivity Booth: Female Condoms

This project was produced by myself, Miles Powell, and William Botchway

Prior to this project, our group, like most booth visitors, had little to no idea how female condoms work. This is silly because benefits warrant fair consideration.

           Benefits of female condom use are diverse.They are made of non-allergenic nitrile, so latex and hormone concerns are mitigated. They may be inserted up to eight hours before intercourse. Best of all, female condoms are an important tool for women’s empowerment. If a woman’s—or man’s, accounting for male-male anal intercourse– male partner doesn’t wish to wear a condom, she has full control over contraceptive use. She also becomes a more active participant, regardless of her partner’s attitudes. Female condoms may even offer slight clitoral stimulation. All sexually-active peole with biologically-male partners should at least consider what such a device has to offer them. They should also consider the downsides, however.

The group and our booth, female condom and all. Used with the permission of Melissa Gonzalez
The group and our booth, female condom and all. Used with the permission of Melissa Gonzalez

Female condoms have significant disadvantages. Their bulky packages, bagginess, and initial discomfort may discourage use, as may social stigmas owing to a lack of female condom awareness. They are costlier than male condoms (though this may be due to the aforementioned lack of awareness), which makes them especially impractical for the same poor regions typically targeted for sexual protection campaign. Everywhere, however, they have lower pregnancy prevention rates than male condoms do.  Normal use is 75-82% effective in preventing pregnancy; for correct use, that number rises to 95%. Male condoms are 98% effective by the same year-long, regular-use metric (Advocates). Male condoms are undeniably more economical, but the balance between pros and cons in using female condoms suggests their use should be a fairly considered.

While working on this booth, our group realized that our research on female condoms connected to what we were learning in class. Generally, women are seen as the passive partner in the act of heterosexual sex. In The egg and the sperm: How science has constructed a romance based on stereotypical male-female roles, Emily Martin demonstrates that this false belief affects how reproductive biology is described: “The egg is seen as large and passive. It does not move or journey, but passively ‘is transported,’ ‘is swept,’ or even ‘drifts’ along the fallopian tube. In utter contrast, sperm are small, ‘streamlined,’ and invariably active. [emphasis in quote]” (489). The female condom allows women to make an active decision to have protected sex. They are able to protect themselves from STDs independent from the man and his body.

Speaking of biology, contraceptives have been a vital contribution to challenging the belief that women are solely meant to be child-rearers. The Boston Women’s Health Collective states that, “the courageous and dedicated work of people like Margaret Sanger started in the early twentieth century to spread and make available birth control methods that women could use, thereby freeing us from the traditional lifetime of pregnancies” (297). More awareness for female condoms will allow women to have another method of pregnancy protection, allowing them to be more than just mothers.

Traditionally, women, especially women of color haven’t been in charge of their reproductive health, as Jael Silliman discusses: “women of color are subjected to racist and sexist stereotypes which send messages that theys hould not be in charge of their own reproductive and sexual destinies” (14). The fact that the female condom allows women to control their reproductive health is incredibly important, as is the agency that it gives women of color who are systematically oppressed in more than one way.

This booth was the first experience that many of us had with female condoms, and we found that a lot of our visitors were new to them as well.  A lot of people were shocked by how the condom looked, as well as confused as to how to use it. In addition to educating people about the female condom, our booth was supplied with a bunch of dental dams; there was a surplus somewhere, so they ended up at our booth. People had a lot of fun at our booth not only touching a female condom for the first time, but also tasting the many different flavors of dental dams. Overall, our booth—and the Sex Positivity Fair as a whole—served as a place where both the creators of booths and the visitors could step out of the comfort zones, and be free to try new things. Never did any of us think we would be tasting lube on a random Wednesday night, but that’s the fantastic part about an event like this, where people can learn and have fun while stepping (sometimes very far) outside of their comfort zones.

Works Cited

Martin, Emily. “The egg and the sperm: How science has constructed a romance based on stereotypical male-female roles.” Signs 16.3 (1991): 485-501.

Norsigian, Judy, et al. “The Boston women’s health book collective and our bodies, ourselves: A brief history and reflection.” JOURNAL-AMERICAN MEDICAL WOMENS ASSOCIATION 54 (1999): 35-36.

Silliman, Jael Miriam. Undivided rights: Women of color organize for reproductive justice. South End Press, 2004.