The Chicago-based Female Health Company makes the FC2 Female Condom, a device that’s available in the U.S. and roughly 143 countries worldwide. Its founder, O.B. Parrish, gave an interview as the company’s unique device approached its fifth year of FDA approval.
You make the only female condom that’s been approved by the FDA, which OK’ed your latest model five years ago this month. What is it exactly?
A nitrile polymer tube—shaped like a male condom, except larger—with a ring inside on one end and an open ring on the other. It protects the vaginal wall from contact with sperm or any sexually transmitted disease.
How is it used?
It’s inserted the same way as a tampon. The inner ring lies back in the vaginal canal, against the cervix, and anchors it internally. . . . The material tends to warm to body temperature more quickly than latex does. And it can be inserted [hours] in advance of intercourse.
How far in advance?
There’s no specific timeline, but certainly somebody could put it in before she went out for an evening.
So women can walk around with it in?
Yes. It’s much less disruptive to the sex act. The male doesn’t have to stop during the process to put a condom on, because it’s already there.
Did you invent it?
It was essentially invented by a Danish physician who then sold it to a group in London [Shartex]. They got approval to manufacture it, but they had no interest in marketing it. They told us, “If you market it, we will sell you the worldwide rights.”
What made you think this product would be a success?
[We] felt that AIDS—which was originally a disease of gay males and drug users—would affect both sexes and spread worldwide and that it would be very unlikely an easy cure would be found. We wanted to provide women [especially women in the developing world, where rates of infection are often much higher] with opportunities to protect themselves.
Just how effective is the female condom against AIDS?
A study [of sex workers in Madagascar, conducted in 2007 by the country’s ministry of health] found that if female condoms are available as an option in addition to male condoms, there is a 10 to 25 percent increase of protected sex acts and a lower incidence of sexually transmitted infections.
How effective is it against pregnancy?
Used correctly, the female condom is about 95 percent effective [versus about 98 percent effective for the male condom].
Who are your customers?
About 95 percent of the business is public sector. We sell [our condoms] to the United Nations Population Fund—which in turn distributes them in various countries—as well as to some ministries of health, like in Brazil or South Africa.
So a person can’t buy one at, say, Walgreens?
We’re in 700 Walgreens nationwide. [A three-pack sells for $6.79.]
You stepped down from the CEO role in January. Who took the job?
Karen King, who comes from Dutch company Royal DSM, where she was selling specialized technical services to the pharmaceutical industry. She has substantial experience on the manufacturing side. That’s important.
It must be nice to have monopoly power. How’s Female Health Company doing?
We haven’t seen a loss since 2005. Last year we sold 55 million female condoms, and our revenues were $32 million. [The company’s stock, however, fell 1.6 percent for the 12 months ending January 31.]
That’s still pretty small. How big could the business get?
The male condom market is about $13 billion per year. . . . If we got 10 percent of that, that would be pretty neat.