26 October 2017

Zimbabwe: Why Women Prefer Male Condoms

While condoms are preferred by most couples because of their dual protection, from unwanted pregnancies and sexual related diseases, only one has been popular in Zimbabwe. Despite a lot of talk about the female condom, it still remains in the shadow of male condoms. According to a Zimbabwe Statistics Agency survey in 2015, usage of female condoms was only 0,2 by married couples.

However, in this generation dominated by popular culture where young adults are indulging in sexual intercourse way before marriage, it is also relevant to take note of their usage of these rubber/latex contraceptives. Looking at students from various tertiary institutions in the country, it also has been revealed that female condoms are not popular with young adults the same way they are not with married couples. In Zimbabwe men often call the shots in relationships and women are expected to abide them.

A couple of students pointed out how this has been a major hindrance for using the female contraceptive method. Gain Bima, a Great Zimbabwe University student said: "Our culture is patriarchal so men, married or not married, are the ones who always have condoms available with them." Another student at the same university, Natalie Maposa, said: "I am naturally a shy person so I do not have the courage to even use them. Also I have gotten used to the idea that men are the ones who should wear them so I have never put much thought into it them."

Social norms and misconceptions have been noted as some of the factors preventing the acceptance of the female condom. Said a Midlands State University student who only wanted to be identified as Chido: "Females are scared to be seen around with condoms lest they are called freaks and labelled undesirable names." Some male students said most people hold the belief that the female condom is meant for sex workers.

"Women who use or carry around the female condom or condoms in general are labelled loose. I would not accept a girl who carries a condom, it is for prostitutes," said Tinashe Chinomona, a student at MSU. Carter Sengwayo, a Chinhoyi University of Technology student, said he would feel more comfortable with a girl who carries a female condom than moving around with male condoms. Although female condoms are increasingly being encouraged for use in the country, few women in universities understand how they must used. Karen Makura, a 20-year old MSU student said: "Very few students know how to use them correctly. They think we can do without them." Even when they are educated through seminars and safe sex campaigns held at the universities every now and then, women and men are just not interested. Norman Tsuro, a student at the University of Zimbabwe, is openly critical of female condoms.

"They are just not popular in our society so I do not see why I should consider them. I will continue using male condoms," he said. HIV/ Aids lobbyists say the main factor leading to low female condom use is the practicality of the condom itself. Women need to wear it at least 30 minutes before sexual intercourse to get the amatory effects.

"I will not use female condoms because they are very uncomfortable. Plus, I personally do not like the insertion part, I'm scared it will get stuck," said a Harare Polytechnic student only identified as Tracy. Tanatsiwa Moyo, a UZ law student, said administering the condom was not unexciting.

"It takes a lot of time to administer, that is why the insertion is done earlier. The male condom is easier to use," she said. Added Jane Banda, a CUT student: "Female condoms are laborious to use. The time needed to warm them up is not something one wants to go through." Some females said they would not compromise on their excitement when there are other protective methods that work with less stress.

"Now most male condoms are scented with different flavours. Female condoms have a distinctively unpleasant smell which is a turn off all in all," said Natasha Bhebhe, another CUT student. Some students said they had only heard of a female condom but had never seen it physically.

"Female condoms are supposed to be as popular as male condoms," one student said. "I would like to try them sometime just to make sure the man understands that I can look after myself." In many African communities, there is a lot of reticence to talk about matters relating to sex. This is one of the major reasons said to contribute to the spread of HIV, sexually transmitted infections, and unwanted pregnancies, especially among teenage girls.

This is also blamed for early marriages and backyard abortions. Male condoms are more readily available compared to female condoms. They are also often given free of charge. Female condoms are usually more expensive than male condoms, something which contributes to their low usage. A female condom costs $1 on average while male condoms cost $1 for 15. Despite efforts to encourage female condom usage at GZU by the Zimbabwe National Family Planning Council (ZNFPC) in August this year, females still do not embrace them.

The ZNFPC donated 1 000 care female condoms at an awareness campaign but most of them were dumped and left at the venue. Statistics show that there is general low uptake of the female condom among women countrywide and according to ZNFPC, for every 40 male condoms used, only one female condom is used. Kelly Chitate, a peer educator at GZU, said efforts to encourage students to use the female condoms had been unsuccessful since they are still very unpopular.

"We do encourage people to use the FC but they are not popular amongst the majority of the female students because they lack empowerment," she said. She added how men do not have patience to wait for the whole insertion process of the condom so they end up opting for the male condom. A nursing sister at Great Zimbabwe University's Mashava campus, Christina Maimba said there were plans by the health department to increase awareness of the female condom to increase its uptake.

"We have plans to hold awareness campaigns like the one we held in August in a bid to increase female condom uptake. Currently, female students embrace the male condom better than the femidom," she said. The female condom has the advantages that it is controlled by the woman and can be inserted several hours before intercourse.

"The female condom adapts to the temperature of the female organ and makes sexual intercourse feel very natural as if there's no condom," said Maimba. The fact that the condom can be washed and reused has made its uptake even lower. A study by the World Health Organisation (WHO) indicates that after several washes and reuse, the female condom stays intact. Although a number of institutions distribute both female and male condoms in the toilets, it has been observed that women would rather get male condoms. The female condom was launched by Population Services International Zimbabwe in 1997 after Women and Aids Support Network lobbied for its introduction on the Zimbabwe market.

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