The female condom learning curve: patterns of female condom failure over 20 uses

Contraception. 2015 Jan;91(1):85-90. doi: 10.1016/j.contraception.2014.09.011. Epub 2014 Sep 28.


Background: Male and female condom (FC) functional performance failure declines with user experience. With the recent availability of a wider range of FCs, it is important to know if women with experience in using one type of FC are more proficient in using another type, even if the FC design is quite different.

Study design: A randomized, noninferiority crossover clinical trial assessed the function of four FCs (FC2, Woman's Condom, Cupid and VA w.o.w) among 300 women in Durban, South Africa. FC functional failure (breakage, slippage, invagination and misdirection) by condom type and use period was investigated in women using five FCs of each type (20 FC uses in total).

Results: Of the 5364 condoms used during intercourse by 272 women, 200 clinical failures occurred in 195 condoms (190 condoms had one failure, and 5 had two failures). Total clinical failure was comparable across FC types. Of the 195 condoms in which failures occurred, the number of failures in the first condom use period was 103 (7.7%), decreasing to 43 events (3.2%) in the second, 33 (2.5%) in the third and 16 (1.2%) in the fourth. Only 2 failures were reported in the 20th use of an FC compared to 29 in the first use, irrespective of condom type.

Conclusions: FC failure rates decreased markedly after use of the first five condoms regardless of FC type and continued to fall across the next three use periods.

Implications: FC failure rates decrease over 20 uses, regardless of FC condom type used. The decrease is higher at the beginning of use, indicating that improvement is greatest after the first five uses.

Keywords: Barrier methods; Experience; Female condom; Function.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Comparative Study
  • Multicenter Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • African Continental Ancestry Group
  • Condoms, Female* / adverse effects
  • Cross-Over Studies
  • Equipment Failure
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Learning Curve
  • Materials Testing
  • Patient Compliance
  • Patient Education as Topic*
  • Risk Assessment
  • South Africa
  • Young Adult