Innovations in Birth Control: The Expanding Horizon of Contraceptives

For decades, the pill and the condom were the two basic contraceptive options on the market. While the pill marked a massive leap forward for women’s health, it came with side effects and inconveniences, and women soon started to push for more options. Their voices were heard, and the market is now being flooded with new choices for every preference and lifestyle out there. According to the CDC, a mere 13.9% of women were on the pill from 2015 to 2017, and this number will likely continue to shrink as newer and more convenient methods become available.

Contraception has rapidly evolved over the past few decades, with new and exciting forms of birth control being introduced to the market and more on the horizon. Here are just a few:

The Shot

The contraceptive shot has been on the market for several years, but previously, it required a monthly trip to the doctor’s office. Recent advances, however, have made this form of birth control self-injectable, saving women a trip to the doctor. In addition, newer versions of the shot only have to be injected once every three months. Although some women cringe at the idea of giving themselves a shot, others find that the increased freedom that comes with the spread-out doses makes this choice worth it.

The Patch

Another contraceptive choice with convenience in mind is the patch. The patch is a small, bandage-like adhesive that you stick on your body, where it stays for three weeks at a time. It releases the same hormones as the pill into your body, with the advantage that you only have to remember to apply it once a month and remove it during the week of your period. Early studies show reflect a promising high compliance rate for patch users, with teens using it effectively 88% of the time as opposed to a 67% compliance rate with the pill. As simple and hassle-free as the patch is, this statistic is no surprise.

The Implant

Another long-term contraceptive option is the implant, which is a thin, matchstick-sized device that’s implanted in the upper arm. The implant can prevent pregnancy for up to three years. As another form of hormonal birth control, it works by releasing hormones that thicken cervical mucus, thin the lining of the uterus, and prevent ovulation. As with the IUD, a woman who wishes to become pregnant must have the implant removed by a doctor before trying to conceive.

The Male Pill

If you, like many others, think that the responsibility for contraception shouldn’t depend only on women, then this innovation will be of particular interest. To date, only two contraceptive options have been available to men: the vasectomy and the condom. The former can be challenging to reverse in some cases, and the latter has failure rates as high as 18% due to noncompliance. However, recent studies, like the one being conducted by researchers from LA BioMed and the University of Washington, show promise of a way to reduce sperm count without affecting testosterone levels in males. Sperm mobility is limited by the drug, making way for a potential male pill. More extensive trials are needed to show whether it would work as a safe and reliable contraceptive, but if testing continues effectively, there could be a male pill in five to 10 years.

The Future

Despite all these advances in contraceptive choices, the scientific research isn’t yet complete. Researchers are still working on options that pair accessibility with a minimal number of adverse reactions. Currently, researchers are testing a new type of pill for women that would only have to be taken once a month. In addition, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is funding research on an implantable microchip contraceptive that could last up to 16 years and be switched on and off by remote, rather than having to be surgically removed when a woman wants to become pregnant. 

The options are better than ever, and the technology continues to develop. Women everywhere can rejoice as contraceptive methods cease to be a one-size-fits-all market. Now, more than ever, there exists a viable option for every lifestyle option and personality. If you’re trying to decide the best option for your unique situation, sit down with your doctor to discuss which method is right for you.

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