A Condom Designed With Women’s Pleasure in Mind

VA w.o.w.Compared to everything from a “sandwich bag” to a “balloon stuck between my legs,” the female condom isn’t exactly beloved, or even well-known, in the United States. (For some, female condoms are even “just ew.”) But a new condom called the VA w.o.w Condom Feminine, created by the Michigan-based company IXü, may just change those perceptions—by prioritizing not only contraception, but also women’s pleasure.

If you’re unfamiliar with female condoms, you’re not alone. Available in the United States since 1994, they’ve largely failed to become popular thanks to poor reviews. They resemble slightly larger versions of male condoms, but with small rings of firm plastic embedded in both ends. After being inserted into the vagina, they serve as a pouch to trap semen, thus protecting wearers from both pregnancy and STIs. The second-generation female condom, the FC2, was introduced in 2009 and is made of a non-latex material, meaning it can be used by those with latex allergies. Some have said it feels more “natural” than a male condom and prefer it over that method.

The average female condom boosts women’s sexual agency: If a male partner objects to wearing condoms, a woman can easily outfit herself with her own condom to be safe. Of course, all female condoms problematically place the responsibility of safe sex on women’s shoulders, as do many other forms of birth control. But the female condom remains an essential tool for fighting the spread of unwanted pregnancies and HIV/AIDS in developing countries with high levels of sexual assault, such as South Africa, where the United Nations Population Fund distributed 1.4 million female condoms in 2004.

But so far no female condom has been designed with women’s pleasure in mind. That’s why we were pleasantly surprised to learn about the VA w.o.w, which has a heart-shaped frame located on the condom’s outer end containing a small vibrator that rests against the clitoris and can be controlled wirelessly or by Bluetooth. (The “w.o.w” refers to “worn-of-women.”) IXü’s consumer survey reported that out of 50 women users, 70 percent reached orgasm. By their fourth time using the condom, all women users orgasmed.

Considering that, according to one study, just 32 percent of women in college reported experiencing an orgasm from their last hookup involving only intercourse, compared to 65 percent of men, IXü’s statistics are impressive. Despite the rise of a potential “female Viagra,” women’s pleasure often remains an afterthought in the world of sexual technologies. But linking protection and pleasure, as the VA w.o.w. does, just makes sense. They’re equally important ingredients to having good (non-reproductive) sex.

Simply redesigning male condoms as “female-friendly”—as has been the trend in the past—by adding hearts to their wrappers helps perpetuate the false notion that women’s sexuality is nothing more than a pinker version of men’s sexuality. Women have specific wants and needs in sexual activity, and we think that creating a product that is unabashedly and uniquely for women is essential to recognizing that.

The VA w.o.w. is still in development and not yet available for purchase, but the contraceptive will likely heighten the female condom’s visibility in the United States. With any luck, it will also heighten the visibility of women’s sexuality and pleasure.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Paul Keller, licensed under Creative Commons 2.0.

Editors’ note: Information about the second-generation female condom was added to this article after publication.

 

 

 

About

Carter Sherman is a former Ms. editorial intern. She recently graduated from Northwestern University, where she studied journalism and international studies, and has previously interned at Elle and Los Angeles Magazine. Follow her on Instagram at @heyyymizcarter.