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The Future of Birth Control: Implants and Reimagining the Condom

Soon-to-arrive technological innovations.

There were many factors leading to the so-called sexual revolution in the 1960s and 70s: a blossoming youth culture, the mainstreaming of adult entertainment, the growth of female erotic empowerment, early recognition of gay rights—to name just a few.

But it’s pretty much inarguable, though, that the development of, and easy access to, the pill fueled a great deal of it.

For the first time, birth control was as simple as women taking that small pill once a day. So world-changing is the Combined Oral Contraceptive Pill (COCP) that it is featured on the World Health Organization’s (WHO) list of Essential Medicines.

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Since the pill’s introduction in 1960, there have been quite a few new innovations, mainly driven by an urgent need not just for pregnancy control but also prevention of the spread of Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) such as HIV.

Because of this change of focus, many of these new developments have steered away from the pill’s hormone regulation method in favor of barriers such as condoms or dental dams.

This is not to say that hormone methods are out of the picture. In fact, there are developments underway that promise new techniques and even greater ease of use

Meanwhile barrier systems, like condoms, are also undergoing their own leaps and bounds innovations—which means that, with both of these approaches, we could be nearing a brand new form of sexual revolution.

The coming of implants

Recognizing, as does the WHO, the necessity of birth control as a basic human right, the Bill Gates & Melinda Foundation has been actively supporting the development of a hormone regulating implantable chip.

Created by MicroCHIPS Inc., the device would be inserted into a woman’s arm, abdomen, or buttock. It would offer a 16-year window of pregnancy prevention and have the ability to be switched on or off, granting the user not just protection but also the choice to decide when that protection takes place.

Soon men will also be able to receive birth control implants, though using non-hormonal methods.

Planned to be available in 2018, the Parsemus Foundation’s Vasalgel would be placed a man’s sperm tubes, blocking normal release using it’s special polymer formula. If no longer needed, it could easily be dissolved.

While Vasalgel could be a viable option for many men, experts pretty much agree that a non-invasive system is needed: a pill for men.

Gunda Georg, a researcher at Minnesota University, explained the difficulty: “It would have to be soluble so it could be taken by mouth. It would start working fairly quickly and it wouldn’t diminish libido. It would be safe even if taken for decades.”

Despite this, Georg’s group has stated they have been making progress in creating an easy-to-take medicine that would give men the same level of control as the legendary pill did for women.

In the meantime, there are other non-hormonal male systems in the works such as Gendarussa. It’s a promising herb that inhibits sperm enzymes, making it all but impossible for them to penetrate and thus fertilize an egg.

The arrival of unique barriers

While remarkably effective, oral contraceptives—and other methods of birth control such as diaphragms and IUDs (intrauterine devices)—are ineffective against the spread of STIs

To date, the best methods of preventing infection are barrier methods such as condoms and dental dams.

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But, as anyone who has used either will testify, there are other forms of barriers surrounding them: namely the willingness for many to actually use them.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, again, is leading the development of new types of male condoms. We’ve already seen promising research in making the latex skin of condoms remarkably thinner, leading to a more comfortable fit—and, hopefully, much more use.

Another promising avenue of research comes straight out of a can. As reported here on Future of Sex, Michele Chu is working on Girlplay: “a line of spray-on condoms that uses the latest technology to fit each and every size, for both male and female. These spray-on condoms are made for the perfect fit, and function like spray-on bandages in the marketplace today.”

For women, the can may soon be a viable option as well. The Chinese biotech firm BlueCross has released a “formulated condom concentrate” using nano-silver—though there are some legitimate concerns over its environmental impact as well its rather mood-killing method of use (five minutes before and then just after sex). This also doesn’t take into account its effectiveness, or lack of, in STI prevention.

The far future of birth control

As we’ve mentioned before, there are two considerations when it comes to preventative sex: birth control and STI exposure. Because of this, any predictions will have to take these two angles into consideration.

For STIs, the good news is that while there are many legitimate concerns about the evolution of drug-resistant, so-called superbugs, there has also been some promising work done in creating new medications and treatment techniques. Limiting it to HIV, for example, scientists at Vanderbilt University have recently announced a possible stepping-stone to an actual vaccine.

If this kind of a breakthrough will eventually lead to the eradication of all STIs is anyone’s guess. But if we can just reduce the spread, there’s every possibility STIs could be reduced to a thankfully rare occurrence.

More than likely we’ll soon be seeing products that don’t just take more than a few seconds to apply, but either feel like nothing at all or even enhance sexual pleasure.

For only birth control, we will no doubt very soon have the convenient option of flipping a digital switch to go from no to yes when it comes to pregnancy—for both men and women.

Precisely regulated doses of a specific hormone, the implants would be subtle and, most of all, error free. They could even be genetically configured for each individual user in order to remove the risk of side effects.

But first…

Staying with optimism, what may be more important than technological innovation is humanity coming to accept the necessity of effective and safe methods of birth control.

In the future, if we play our cards right, the entire concept of an unwanted pregnancy, or contracting an STI, could be as antiquated as the sun revolving around the earth.

Image sources: lookcatalogPaul Keller

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