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The female condom: it's noisy, it's ugly and it's expensive, but it's the safest sex around.

Women and men over 50 now represent the fastest growing group of new HIV/AIDS cases in the US and Canada, rising at twice the rate of the 13 to 49 age group, according to recent studies, with the rate of infection for midlife women growing faster than that of their male counterparts. Yet studies also show that most men and women over 50 believe that they are not at risk for HIV and are less likely to use condoms when they are sexually active - as protection against the spread of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases - than their younger counterparts. One possible reason for this attitude is that midlife women, once they've passed through menopause, no longer require birth control measures to prevent pregnancy, and as a result, are more likely than younger women to have unprotected - and unfortunately, unsafe - sex.

However, midlife women are particularly vulnerable to HIV infection since many women experience a decrease in vaginal secretions and a thinning of the vaginal walls during their menopausal transition, leaving them more likely to suffer small vaginal tears and abrasions that increase their risk for HIV infection during unprotected sexual intercourse. There's no getting around it: midlife women need to consider practicing safer sex.

The male condom is already a well-known and popular option for protecting against sexually transmitted diseases in general, including protection against HIV infection, but there is another option for those of you who would prefer using a woman-controlled method of protection: the female condom. The female condom is a thin, loose-fitting and flexible polyurethane plastic pouch that is designed to line the vaginal walls. Like the male condom, the female condom acts as a barrier between the exchange of male and female body fluids during intercourse. The female condom provides a protective sheath that prevents sperm from entering the vagina.

There are 2 flexible rings at either end of the female condom; the inner ring at the closed end allows the condom to be inserted into the vagina and keeps it snug in place over the cervix. The 2nd ring at the open end of the condom remains outside the vagina and covers and protects the labia (external genitals or lips). Think of it as a male condom in reverse: covering the female genitals (like an open pouch or sack) rather than enclosing the male genitals.

Most studies done on the female condom show that women are skeptical when it comes to this cumbersome looking contraption, but like it once they get used to it, and would recommend it to others. Regular users of the female condom prefer the increased protection it offers them and the fact that they, and not their male partners, can control its use.

Advantages for female condom use:

* Woman-controlled.

* Convenient: can be inserted up to 8 hours before sex.

* Safer: it covers both the vaginal walls (internal) and the labia (external genitals) and so offers more protection against STDs and HIV/AIDS.

* More durable: less likely to break since they are made of polyurethane which is 40% stronger than the common latex condoms for men.

* Versatile: can be used with both oil and water-based lubricants.

* Less decrease in sensation for men than with the male condom.

* Does not irritate those with latex allergies.

* Erection is not required to keep the condom in place.

* Can be used for heterosexual sex and lesbian sex.

Disadvantages for female condom use:

* Difficult to insert and remove properly at first. However, with practice the female condom becomes easy to use.

* May be noisy. Can make suction noises during intercourse.

* Expensive: significantly more expensive than male condoms and like male condoms, cannot be re-used but must be thrown away after each use.

* Ugly: most women do not like the look of the female condom which has little sex-appeal.

* Hazards: may slip into the vagina during sex if it is not inserted properly. Also, the penis may slip around the side of the condom into the unprotected vagina if not used properly.

REALTED ARTICLE: HIV/AIDS Facts

* Approximately 15% of American AIDS cases occur in people over the age of 50.

* Rates of new HIV infection are rising faster in women over age 50 than men over 50.

* Health practitioners generally underestimate risk factors for HIV infection in clients over 50, and so do not discuss safe sex practices with them, or provide regular HIV testing.

* Most research, clinical drug trials and educational prevention programs concerning HIV/AIDS target a young audience, and do not focus on the over 50 age group.

* HIV in those over 50 is often misdiagnosed due to a general lack of awareness that this age group is at risk.

From the US National Association of HIV Over Fifty, www.hivoverfifty.org
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Author:O'Grady, Kathleen
Publication:A Friend Indeed
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2003
Words:790
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