For centuries, most sexually active women have taken primary responsibility for precautionary measures against pregnancy and disease. But since the AIDS scare took hold in the early 1980s, sales of condoms— considered by doctors to be the most effective prevention of the sexual transmission of the disease—have increased by more than 50 per cent. Now, 100 couples in the United States and 400 couples in Denmark are testing a new kind of condom—one that women can wear. Still known only as WPC-333, the condom-manufactured by Jackson-based Wisconsin Pharmacal Co.—is being tested for comfort, safety and effectiveness, and company officials have expressed hope that, following approval by the U.S. Federal Drug Administration, WPC333s will be on the U.S. market in early 1989.
Unlike men’s latex or sheep-membrane condoms, WPC-333s are made from polyurethane—a stronger material that is less prone to tearing. The woman’s condom consists of two flexible rings at either end of a loose-fitting sheath that protects the inside of the vagina. Its developers propose that the disposable one-size-fits-all device — which is inserted like a tampon—be packaged with a specially formulated lubricant and sold, without a prescription, initially at pharmacies only. Currently, according to Murray Black, president of Toronto-based condom manufacturer Julius Schmid of Canada Ltd., the company is not considering developing a similar device in Canada.
Indeed, Black—whose company supplies more than half the country’s condom market—said that his initial reaction is that a lot of women are not going to use WPC-333s. “It’s too much work to do,” he added. And a spokesman for the U.S. division of Schmid in New Jersey said that many female participants in the trials had a negative response to the look of the condom. Still, researchers at the University of California are currently conducting effectiveness tests on WPC-333s and say that not even the herpes simplex virus—the smallest of all communicable sexual disease viruses— can penetrate the condom. That alone is a powerful incentive to try the new condoms.
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