THE FEMALE condom, due to be launched in Britain at the end of September, may need to be redesigned to make it more acceptable to women, says a study published in the British Journal of Family Planning.

The Femidom is a loose-fitting, soft, thin polyurethane sheath. It has a flexible inner ring that is used to insert it into the vagina and an outer ring which lies flat against the labia. It has been hailed as an effective barrier against sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancy, and its manufacturers say that in trials most women and their partners have found it comfortable.

But in a study of 106 women by the Margaret Pyke Centre, London, 56 per cent dropped out. Some found the device 'unaesthetic' and said it tended to hang loosely at the vulva when inserted, while others said it 'rustled', felt cold or made them sore. Twenty-three said it fell out of the vagina, along with the penis, during intercourse, while 34 reported that it was accidentally pushed up into the vagina. Twenty-six reported that the penis accidentally entered the vagina outside the condom.

There were some positive features. The Femidom rarely split, and male partners reported less loss of sensitivity than with a male condom.