Since I don't want to be on hormonal birth control and find condoms a bit of a nuisance, I'm always looking for alternatives. When I learned about Luwi, a disposable "pleasure protector," which lines the vagina during sex and works similarly to a female condom, I really, really wanted it to be the birth control method the world was missing.
Luwi claims to have a 98 percent success rate when it comes to preventing pregnancy, according to the company's website, and even says it guards against STIs better than condoms. The main differences between Luwi and the female condom brand Femidom are that you can leave Luwi in for up to eight hours before sex (female condoms are inserted immediately before), it's more formfitting, and it's made of a nonlatex, ultra-thin polyurethane instead of plastic nitrile, founder Lisa Kinsella told me.
Luwi's other distinguishing feature is its marketing, which focuses on putting women's sexual health in their own hands. This is what leads Alexis Thomas, founder of the sex shop Taboo Tabou, to predict that Luwi "might have a big impact on safe sex for women," she told me. "Marketing of the female condom was very medical and sterile. There wasn't a connection or anything. This Luwi is like the Beyoncé of safe sex. They found their audience, an audience that is very aware and educated and, honestly, tired of feeling the side effects of traditional birth control or the lack of control in the male condom, and used marketing to connect to them."
Kinsella also sees the product's marketing as a major advantage. "Have you ever gone to the 'female shoe department'? We shop at the 'women’s department.' 'Female' is such a clinical word and is off-putting for many, not to mention unsexy sounding," she said. "We believe that women want to be healthy and want to be in charge of their protection. We believe they want that protection to feel good to them as well as to their partner. Luwi grows when we reach more women and they try Luwi and it makes them feel sexy and smart and empowered."
Luwi has benefits for guys too, Kinsella added, since it's "designed to transfer body heat and free the shaft while clinging to the vaginal/anal walls, and be in place before it is needed, versus a condom that can only be put on at a certain time."
That all sounded pretty enticing, so I decided to take Luwi for a spin myself. I got a pack of four, which sells for around $10, a bit pricier than condoms. The Luwi looks like a plastic bag with one bendable ring around the top and another inside. You put it into your vagina by squeezing the inner ring so that the whole thing bends and fits.
I was nervous about attempting to fit a ring and a penis in my vagina at once, and it turned out that fear was pretty justified. I could feel the ring bumping against me every time my partner thrusted, which wasn't exactly a turn-on (unless you're turned on by a jabbing pain—no judgment). And it didn't cling to my vaginal walls as promised; it jostled quite a bit, which didn't feel good for me. My partner wasn't into it either: He said it's sexier to put a penis into a vagina than to put in into a bag, and while it's more about me taking control of safe sex, I couldn't argue with the logic there. After a few minutes we gave up and used a regular condom, and I found that I suddenly had a newfound appreciation for them.
I asked Kinsella if there was anything I could do to prevent the pain, and she said some Luwi users take out the inner ring to make it more comfortable. So I tried, but then the whole thing came out. I determinedly stuffed it back in and tried again, but the sex still wasn't comfortable. The outer ring was hitting against my clitoris, and the baglike part was pressing against my vagina in a way that made me feel like I had to pee.
One trip to the bathroom later, we tried another. For a second I thought it was working, but soon I felt that familiar sensation of the ring hitting against my vagina. I tried to pull the inner ring out, but once again the entire Luwi came out with it. My partner had been patient enough already, so I decided I'd done enough fumbling for the day.
With one Luwi left, I thought I'd test its ability to stay in hours before sex and spend an evening with it in. But I could feel it rubbing against me when I walked or sat down, irritating my skin. It also came out a little bit every time I peed. "Sexy and smart and empowered" were far from how I was feeling.
To make sure I gave it a fair shake, I gave sex with it one more go. Again I had to remove the ring because it hurt, and again it still felt like something was bumping against my vagina and chafing my skin after that. Once, my partner accidentally dragged it out with him.
As much as I'd love to say I've found the solution to your birth control woes, my advice would be: If you want a nonhormonal method you have power over, get on the bandwagon of people revisiting the diaphragm. It'll be a little bit less expensive and a lot more comfortable.
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