Opportunities and challenges for the introduction of a new female condom among young adults in urban Zambia

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Article (peer-reviewed)

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Background: Expanding contraceptive method choices for sexually active youth is critical to prevent STIs/HIV and unintended pregnancies. However, preferences and decision making around contraception among young adults are not well understood. A new female condom (FC), the Woman’s Condom (WC), features an improved design and is marketed as a premium product at a higher price point. We conducted a qualitative study to examine the underlying knowledge, attitudes, and perceptions around the FC generally, the WC specifically, and to explore the opportunities and challenges of introducing the WC to young adults in urban Zambia. Methods: Thirty focus group discussions comprised of 245 men and women aged 18–24 years were facilitated by local moderators in Lusaka, Zambia between August and December 2016. Data were analyzed using thematic content analysis using ATLAS.ti (Version 7.5.17). Results: While interest in the newly launched WC was high, few participants recognized it, so discussion was framed around FCs more generally. The decision to use a FC is challenged by misconceptions regarding safety and correct use, cost, and women’s limited power over decision making in relationships. Participants also reported low availability of the product. Several opportunities for FC uptake were discussed, including the perception that FCs provide better sensation during intercourse compared with male condoms, and women reported enthusiasm for the opportunity to be the partner responsible for contraception. Some women expressed interest in the WC in order to ensure it was not tampered with by their partner, a practice commonly reported by both genders that reflects high levels of mistrust. Conclusions: Findings suggest the FC, including the new WC, has potential to increase gender equity by giving women a product they are comfortable buying and being able to control to ensure correct use; however, future programming should address high perceived cost of the WC and women’s limited decision making power in relationships. Findings also highlight the need for interventions that include product demonstration and promote the WC as a method that provides better sensation during sex than male condoms. To increase voluntary uptake, the challenges identified here should be incorporated into future social marketing campaigns.