Because women are biologically more likely than men to be infected with HIV/AIDS, it is crucial that they take measures to protect their sexual health, said Maryann Abbott, project director for the Multi-Level Female Condom Project at the Institute for Community Research, at a talk Tuesday.
At the Sex Week talk, Abbott said she seeks to empower women to protect themselves against sexually transmitted diseases by making the female condom socially acceptable. Abbott and three of her colleagues — Mary Prince, Zahira Medina and Kim Radda — also described other methods of female protection, as well as their organization’s initiative to reach out to women across the world, from the U.S. to China and Africa.
Abbott began the talk by informing the approximately 15-person audience, mainly female students, about microbicides, which are topical products in the form of vaginal cream or foam gel. Microbicides are still being developed and tested, and also include pills and a vaginal ring, which slowly emits medicine and stays in place for approximately a month.
Currently, microbicides are 30 percent effective, Abbott said, adding that the percentage should increase with every generation.
Not all microbicides are contraceptive, Abbott said, and some can be used during the delivery of a baby to reduce the risk of disease transmission during labor.
The products have not been approved for use during anal sex, Abbott added.
Abbott said these products, which would likely be inexpensive and easily available, would be especially beneficial to women who have trouble convincing their sexual partners to use protection.
After Abbott, Mary Prince, the outreach interviewer for the project, spoke about the Female Condom 2 and how it compares with the original female condom.
The Female Condom 2 is less transparent, less noisy and less expensive than the Female Condom 1. The two also differ in material, she said: the Female Condom 1 is made of polyurethane, while the Female Condom 2 is made from nitrile, a type of rubber.
Like Abbott, Prince said her organization’s goal is to provide alternatives for women who cannot convince their partners to wear a condom. Unlike the male condom, the female condom can be put on eight hours before intercourse, she said, and not all men notice it. She cited studies conducted in South Africa, which found that if 17 million people used the Female Condom 2, it would prevent 10,000 HIV infections — a number which would rise to 32,000 if 54 million people used it.
“We are not trying to replace male condoms with female ones,” Abbott said later. “We just want to offer many options.”
Kim Radda, a health educator, concluded the talk by briefing the audience on what the project has been doing to promote the female condom. The year-old project, based in Hartford, trains community members to promote the use of the female condoms by going out to local grocery stores, pharmacies, adult retail stores and universities.
“It can be a little different and daunting if you haven’t had someone go through the demonstration with you,” said Radda.
At the end of the talk, members of the audience were given a few female condoms and Prince demonstrated how they are used.
Willi Reener ’12 said she was curious about how female condoms worked.
“People know that they exist but don’t know about the potential benefits,” she said.
George Norberg ’11, the director of sex week, said he thought Prince’s demonstration should be replicated for incoming freshmen to show how they are used and discuss their advantages and disadvantages.
As the audience exited the room, the four project members handed out free female condoms.