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Most women hate female condoms. But will this vibrating prophylactic change their minds?
This article contains sexually explicit content.
If you’ve ever used a female condom, you know that it feels like having a plastic bag shoved up inside you. (Alternatively, if you’re a guy, it feels like having sex with a plastic bag.) It’s awkward, it makes weird rustling sounds, and it seems embarrassingly huge when you first take it out of the package. It’s no wonder, then, that female condoms have lagged in popularity since they first came on the market a few decades ago.
But the Michigan-based company IXu has developed a female condom that is sure to be wildly popular. The VA w.o.w. female condom is a wireless, Bluetooth-enabled prophylactic with miniature vibrators embedded in the outer ring, the part that keeps the condom in place on the vulva so it doesn’t get pushed upward during sex. If recent tests are any indication, it’s a condom that’s designed to make your lady bits very, very happy.
“The rate of orgasm for women by the fourth time of use was 100 percent. It was a higher orgasm rate for women than even for men,” IXu’s Brian Osterberg told the Daily Dot. “It just goes to show how powerful the technology is.”
Osterberg said that he plans to have the vibrating female condoms available on the European market in the next 12 to 18 months, but the company hasn’t yet received FDA approval.
In fact, there’s only one female condom in the world that has been approved by the FDA for sale in the United States. It’s called the FC2, and it’s a 6.5-inch plastic sheath that’s inserted into the vagina prior to sex.
When used correctly, the FC2 is 95 percent effective, or slightly more effective than a male condom. Yet the device has fallen out of favor in large part because of how ungainly its design is. “It was like a trash bag lining my vagina. I did not like it at all,” one blogger wrote about trying a female condom for the first time.
Osterberg said he suspected there was only one female condom on the US market because the FDA wasn’t exactly making approving female condoms a priority. The original product on the market, the FC1 condom, was a dud when it was first introduced nearly 20 years ago.
“Typically the difficulties of FDA approval is the expense, the millions of dollars needed for clinical evaluation,” said Osterberg. “There’s been some hesitation to spend the money to test something if it seems similar to a product that failed.”
When the FC1 was first ushered onto the market in 1993, it was made of polyurethane, the same material used to make Nerf footballs. Its loud, plastic bag-like qualities didn’t exactly make it popular. But in recent years, female condoms have increased in popularity, in part due to the number of advantages the female condom has over its male counterpart.
Research has shown that when female condoms are available, couples are more likely to use protection. Unlike birth control pills, the female condom is the only existing method of preventing STIs that can be entirely controlled by women, which is crucial in situations where male partners refuse to wear condoms. Additionally, female condoms can be used in anal sex, so they can be used by any receptive partner as a method of preventing STIs.
That’s why groups like the National Female Condom Coalition are working on making sure that the products are widely available to sexually active people, both on the market and through social service outreach projects that give away free condoms and birth control.
The female condom remains the only prevention option that offers receptive partner-initiated protection vs HIV, STDs & unintended pregnancy
— Planned Parenthood (@PPGulfCoast) April 4, 2015
There’s also one significant advantage the VA w.o.w. condom has over traditional methods of contraception: It gives out orgasms like candy. According to the VA w.o.w. study of vibrating female condoms, reported orgasm rates were high for both women and men.
Gals who prefer female condom 😍😍😍
— ♚danny™♚ (@dannnygh) March 19, 2015
But how far will these new wearable tech lady-bags go? If existing sex toys are any indication, your vaginal condom could soon make your phone or iPod connect directly to your clitoris.
The company OhMiBod has been producing wireless music vibrators since 2006, with sex toys that connect to smartphones and music players via Bluetooth and vibrate along with music. According to the company’s website, its remote app (available at the App Store and Google Play) allows a user to “make a connection and control your partner’s vibrator from anywhere.”
Osterberg sees the female condom heading in a similar direction. “The condom could be controlled from a iPhone or an Apple Watch. You could develop as many apps for this as you can think of,” he said.
It’s hard to imagine anyone wanting to walk around with a female condom stuffed inside her all day. I mean, a vagina is not a handbag. Are we supposed to start carrying our groceries in there too?
But once you get past the initial awkwardness of the idea, an app-controlled vibrating female condom sounds pretty great. Aside from vibrating rings and male condoms, it would be one of the few options on the market that would serve as both an orgasm-inducing sex toy and a barrier method that prevents STIs and unintended pregnancy.
Although the traditional male condom hasn’t improved much in recent decades, the search is on for new and improved barrier methods. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation gives out $100,000 grants every year to researchers designing new condom models, and in 2014 one of the grantees was developing a female condom made from a latex alternative. Which is nice, but can’t exactly compete with a 100 percent orgasm rate.
Osterberg is optimistic that his product will usher the female condom into the mainstream contraceptive market. The fact that it’s effective and gives you orgasms doesn’t exactly hurt its chances. “We need to make it so wearing the female condom is as acceptable as wearing any other accessories,” he told the Daily Dot.
Photo via Franca Jiminez/Flickr (CC BY ND 2.0)
Mary Emily O'Hara is an LGBTQ reporter. Her work has appeared in Rolling Stone, NBC Out, Daily Dot, Broadly, Vice, the Daily Beast, the Advocate, Huffington Post, DNAinfo, Al Jazeera, and Portland's Pulitzer Prize-winning newsweekly Willamette Week, among other outlets.