In the early 1990s, with the HIV/AIDS epidemic on the increase, three brands of female condom were introduced to the USA market: the 'Bikini Condom', 'Women's Choice' and 'Reality'. Called 'vaginal pouches' by the FDA (US Food and Drug Administration) they worked as both a birth control device and as a barrier to disease.
Manufacturers and health workers claim that the main advantage of female condoms is that they give women control over contraception and the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). However the 'Bikini Condom', 'Women's Choice' and 'Reality' brands do not appear to have been a marketing success. Inexperienced women found them difficult to use, they had an unappealing appearance, and they were expensive compared to ordinary male condoms. Nevertheless, another brand was launched in the USA several years later. The 'Female Condom' brand is made of clear polyurethane film and is still available in 2005. In 2000 FPA Health began importing it and distributing it in Australia.
The manufacturer of the 'Female Condom' claims that it is 'the first and only female-initiated barrier method'. This is not quite correct. Not only were 'Bikini Condom', 'Women's Choice' and 'Reality' available earlier, but female condoms made of rubber were available in the early 20th century. A 'feminine sheath' is illustrated in the 1923 book by British family planning pioneer Marie Stopes 'Wise parenthood'.
The examples of 'Bikini Condom' and 'Women's Choice' female condoms were donated to the Powerhouse by Dr Edith Weisberg. Long associated with FPA Health (formerly the Family Planning Association of NSW), and well known for her work in reproductive and sexual health both in Australia and internationally, Dr Weisberg became the Director of Research at the Sydney Centre for Reproductive Health Research when it opened in 1990. The Centre is a collaborative project between the FPA Health and the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the University of Sydney. Dr Weisberg obtained these samples of female condoms while in the USA in 1993.
Contracetp Technol Update, 1991, Aug. 12 (8): 117-22, 127
FPA Health's Director of Research receives an AM
Female Condom Now Available in Australia
University of Sydney Obstetrics and Gynaecology
History of the Department