Myth: women don’t need a condom

Hand holding the Woman's Condom, a tightly wrapped tube with a bag-like end.

In surveys, more women than in previous years are saying current methods of contraception don’t meet their needs. Above, PATH’s Woman’s Condom. Photo: PATH/Glenn Austin.

Recently, Bill and Melinda Gates released their annual letter, which took on three persistent myths that block progress for the poor. In the same spirit, this week we’re debunking six myths that impede progress in global health. Today we’re taking on:

Portrait of a smiling Jane Hutchings.

Jane Hutchings sees a change in the reasons women don’t use contraceptives. Photo: PATH.

There are enough contraceptive choices, if only people would use them.

Mythbuster: Jane Hutchings, leader of the Reproductive Health Program at PATH.

Family planning efforts have been so successful in educating women about contraceptives and providing access to them that it’s easy to see why people might think this is true. In surveys of women who say they don’t want to be pregnant but who aren’t using contraception, it used to be that many said they were unaware of contraception or they didn’t have access to methods. Now, more women say they don’t use contraception because current methods don’t meet their needs.

That doesn’t mean there still aren’t challenges in access and education, but it does indicate that family planning programs have made progress there. We need to make similar progress in improving methods of contraception.

Contraception “on demand”

In surveys, for example, women say they are interested in more “on demand” methods of contraception—that is, contraceptives you use only when you have sex. At PATH, we’re working with partners on several products that fall into this category: the Woman’s Condom, the SILCS diaphragm, and an oral contraceptive pill that women could take only before or after they have sex.  Another contraceptive innovation—Sayana Press—will enhance access by making it easier for a range of providers, and perhaps even a women herself, to administer contraceptive injections good for three months.

A recent analysis of unmet need for family planning estimates that 222 million women worldwide who want to avoid pregnancy aren’t using modern contraceptives. For many of them, the current choices aren’t enough. With any other health issue, I don’t think we’d tell them, “You’ve got enough choices; make them work. We don’t need further innovation in this field.” We certainly shouldn’t do that with something as important to the health of women and children as contraception.

The series:

Women don’t need a condom.

Diseases like cancer don’t affect low-income countries.

Diarrhea is rarely fatal.

Women don’t die in childbirth anymore.

There aren’t enough lifesaving ideas.

Malaria is unstoppable.

More information

Posted in Family planning, Featured posts, Health technologies | Permalink

11 Responses to Myth: women don’t need a condom

  1. I would argue that the methods that are used put it all on women to not get pregnant. We need to do more to encourage men to not become fathers so soon. Men often try to talk women out of using contraception. Hell I am a married woman with a child and my husband’s favorite false argument is that we don’t need condoms since we’re married. Family planning isn’t encourage enough on the man side.

  2. Hello Stephanie,

    Thanks for your comment. Yes, I agree that men are critical partners in these decisions, and there is work to be done to increase their engagement on important issues like family planning. At the same time, research shows that women are interested in on-demand methods of contraception that they initiate and control. The Woman’s Condom is one of those methods, as is the diaphragm and on-demand contraceptive pills.

  3. Hi,
    In response to Stephanie’s comment, I don’t think married men are opposed to family planning, they are just opposed to condoms. Condoms limits intimacy and condom use in marriage, in my opinion defeats the purpose of being married and being faithful?

    I have read over the years of the novel female condom developed by PATH. I am yet to see one. How can we get access to it? Is it commercially available?

  4. Hello George,

    Thanks for your comment. The Woman’s Condom, developed by PATH and our research partners, is indeed a novel second-generation female condom designed for improved acceptability, ease of use, and good sensation. It is currently approved for sale in Europe, China, and South Africa. PATH currently has European donor funding to explore and develop market opportunities in China and South Africa, which will help inform possible introduction in additional countries. You can find out more about the Woman’s Condom at our Technologies for Reproductive Health website.

  5. Pingback: Debunking the malaria myth | Making Malaria History

  6. IT’S REALLY NICE TO LEARN ABOUT A NEW FEMALE CONDOM. PLEASE MAKE IT AVAILABLE AND AFFORDABLE HERE IN KENYA VERY SOON.

  7. I live in the U.S., where it seems like most doctors are pushing hormonal methods of birth control. After falling into depression with my hormonal IUD, I swore “Never again.”

    If you don’t want hormones, the only options you have are condoms (which I agree with George up there. Who wants that in a committed relationship?), copper IUD’s (can make periods worse, and from personal experience, I know they can hurt a guy), or the sponge (with it’s terrible, burning spermicide, that frequently causes yeast infections). You can have any of that… or you know, just get sterilized. :(

    Yeah. Not a lot of good options for those of us who aren’t into hormones.

    I had my doctor fit me for a diaphragm, which he laughed off, but did it anyway. No pharmacy could fill the prescription, as the manufacturers here are closed or something like that. I had to order my diaphragms from another country. I got a regular one and a Caya. Quite a few women have expressed interest in diaphragms since I’ve shared what I’ve been using. So I would really like to know when the Caya Diaphragm will be available in the U.S. The last I heard, it was submitted for FDA testing or something. I’d like to know the status, if you are able to give it to me. I have one and am happy with it so far, but I really shouldn’t have had to jump through hoops to get it. No one should.

    For the record, I am in no way blaming you guys for the state of things in the U.S. I know that the red tape to get it approved must be quite a mess to deal with. I am just frustrated with our current lack of non-hormonal options.

    Also, I think that working on man birth control is a great idea, too. :)

  8. Kathleen Donnelly

    We are happy to hear that you have had a positive experience using the Caya contoured diaphragm! We also completely agree with you that women and couples should have greater access to a range of nonhormonal methods of contraception, which was our motivation behind developing the Caya diaphragm and our efforts to bring it to new markets.

    You are correct, the Caya diaphragm is not yet approved for marketing in the United States, but a regulatory application with the USFDA has been submitted and is being reviewed. It is, however, a lengthy process that could take several more months to complete.

    As you know, PATH has licensed the technology to Kessel Marketing & Vertriebs GmbH in Germany for manufacturing and commercialization. Kessel has achieved regulatory approval in Europe last year and the Caya contoured diaphragm is currently available in 14 European markets. We expect that it will be available in Canada soon as well. Would you like to be included on our emailing list to receive updates about the US regulatory submission?

    Thanks for your interest!

  9. Thank you for writing me back so fast! :D

    Yes, please keep me in the loop. Do you have my email address so you can add me to the list?

    I think the Caya was a brilliant idea, and (since I’m not too shy about matters of birth control), I have told all of my friends. I am all for empowering women and sharing my knowledge of what’s out there. I’m just glad I found out about it. Thank goodness for the Internet! :D

    I don’t know what I could possibly do, but if there is anything I can do to help the process along here in the states, just let me know. :)

  10. Kathleen Donnelly

    Thanks very much! We’ll add your email address to our list.

  11. It would be very interesting to see men take on responsibility when it comes to contraceptives. For most women in Kenya negotiation for safe sex is the mountain. Thus women end up pregnant, when they are not ready for a child. And when they have children the number keeps increasing.
    I also like that there are a few non hormanal methods available. But for most of these products they take forever before they get to Kenya. Make it available for us too. Having children should not be by chance, but by responsibility and total readiness.

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