Female condoms help women to convince partners to have safer sex: study

In countries with high HIV prevalence rates, women with low bargaining power struggle to convince partners to have protected sex. The introduction of female condoms, which are more acceptable to men, helps these women to successfully negotiate protected sex with their partners. This benefit of female condoms needs to be carefully weighed against their marginally lower effectiveness and higher unit cost compared to male condoms.

Researchers at the Amsterdam Institute for Global Health and Development and Oxford University co-authored a paper focusing on female bargaining power in Mozambique when it comes to using condoms during sex – a decision both sexual partners must agree on. HIV prevalence in Mozambique is among the highest in the world; in its capital Maputo, almost 30 percent of women aged 15-49 are currently infected.

Condoms are the most effective way for men and women to protect themselves from sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. With men typically having more decision-making power when it comes to sexual relationships in Sub-Saharan Africa, it can be difficult for women to convince their partners to use protection. This lack of protection puts both parties – and particularly the woman – at increased risk.

According to UNAIDS, 3.3 billion risky sex acts took place in Sub-Saharan Africa in 2015 alone, and women disproportionally bear the costs of these risks because of higher HIV transmission rates and the cost of unwanted pregnancies.

The researchers conducted a randomized field experiment in Mozambique, which introduced female condoms in a setting where male condoms were already widely available. Participation in the women’s group meetings, which included both access to female condoms in addition to other information provision, resulted in a substantially higher use of female condoms. Crucially, there was no evidence that the use of male condoms decreased.

The study findings showed the strongest adoption of female condoms among women with low bargaining power in their relationship, who were previously having unprotected sex.

“The results are important because it shows us that offering female condoms in this community helps in closing the gap in unprotected sex,” said Associate Professor Wendy Janssens, academic staff at AIGHD.

“The biggest impact is concentrated among women who were initially not using any sort of protection. This suggests that female condoms can effectively help some of the most vulnerable women to better protect themselves.”

Read co-author Karlijn Morsink’s guest blog on the study here.