Many Young Women are Unaware of Female Condoms: Study

Female Condom is One of the Only Two Barrier Protective Methods
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Students receive free condoms at an event organised by the United Nations
Students receive free condoms at an event organised by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) on World Population Day in Manila July 11, 2014. Reuters

Condoms are the only known preventive measures against sexually transmitted infections. While young adults are aware of what condoms are, they are totally oblivious to female condoms which is one of the only two barrier protective methods, a new study by two UT Arlington researchers have found

The paper "Communicating Sexual Health Messages: Young Adults and the Female Condom" appears in the Open Access Journal of Contraception. For the research, awareness sessions were conducted with 55 male and 94 female participants between 18 and 24 years of age. Same-sex peer educators conducted the information sessions with small groups at the southwestern U.S. University. The researchers were shocked to find out that few of the students were completely unaware of the existence of female condoms. After the session, most participants said that female condoms were a useful and sensible preventive method. Protection was a third priority for them among all its features, design taking the higher rank with nearly 52 percent women stating that they liked the design.

Charla Markham Shaw, associate professor of communication, co-author of the paper said, "Teens and young college adults encounter many sexual health risks, so communicating meaningful and relevant information that connects with this demographic is critical. 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."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stated that every year, young sexually active individuals form half of the new sexually transmitted infection cases in the U.S. This could cause pelvic inflammatory disease, pregnancy complications, abortion and infertility if it is not treated at the initial stages. The awareness of these preventive measures plays a huge role in averting these problems.

Though male condoms are known to be a protective measure, people are still ignorant of the female condom which is the only woman-initiated barrier methods and its benefits. The peer educators spoke of its cost effectiveness, ease of use and sexual pleasures among other things.

Karishma Chatterjee, an assistant professor of communication studies in The University of Texas at Arlington College of Liberal Arts, and co author of the paper said, "The findings suggest that design, lack of side effects, protection and convenience were important to the majority of college women." Some women said that the large size of the condom may be a turn off as it leaves no room for "skin to skin contact."

Chatterjee said that since men did not have to place the device on or in their bodies, the design factor did not matter to them. "Women, however, were primarily focused on design elements in their responses suggesting that the features need to be highlighted in educational messaging about the benefits of the female condom."

The researchers are hopeful that the study would be helpful for sexual health care providers and would also be useful as a guide for college going students across U.S. for further research on the issue.

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