The female condom can be an effective barrier method for preventing sexually transmitted diseases and unplanned pregnancies, but the device is rarely used because few young women or their sexual partners know about them.
According to researchers, when given information about how female condoms work and the preventions they offer, the likelihood increases substantially that young women will use them.
“Teens and young college adults encounter many sexual health risks, so communicating meaningful and relevant information that connects with this demographic is critical,” said Charla Markham Shaw, associate professor of communication, at the University of Texas, and one of the authors of “Communicating sexual health messages: young adults and the female condom,” which appears in the June 2014 issue of Open Access Journal of Contraception.
She adds that both “women and men must be considered when developing messages about the female condom, as partner acceptance is key in successful adoption of new sexual health technologies.”
For their study, Shaw and Karishma Chatterjee, an assistant professor of communication studies, also at The University of Texas, conducted information sessions with 55 male and 94 female participants between the ages of 18 and 24 years old in same-sex small groups. Few participants in the study groups knew about or had ever seen a female condom before.
During the education sessions, participants learned about the ease of use, cost and effectiveness of female condoms. They also discussed implications beyond sexual health, including sexual pleasure and latex allergies.
Afterward, most of the students said they considered the female condom a viable method for preventing sexually transmitted infections and unplanned pregnancies. Nearly 52 percent of the female participants said what they most liked most was the condom’s design. Protection, the most liked characteristic for men, ranked third for women.
“Our aim was to learn about the characteristics of the female condom that are important to young college adults and to identify how they view the device as a method of protection against sexual diseases and unplanned pregnancy,” Chatterjee said. “The findings suggest that design, lack of side effects, protection and convenience were important to the majority of college women.”
The first female condom was introduced in the U.S. in 1993, but drew little interest due to several reasons including mixed or negative portrayals in the media. The Food and Drug Administration approved the second version of the female condom in 2009.
The researchers hope the findings will serve as communication recommendations for sexual health care providers in the U.S. In addition to components of message design, the results of their latest research suggest that health care providers should give clients opportunities for direct experience with the female condom as a new technology.
Open Access Journal of Contraception June 2014
Charla Markham Shaw and Karishma Chatterjee, University of Texas at Arlington