Birth control breakthroughs on the horizon

Via Kristof of the New York Times and The Daily Report from the National Partnership for Women and Families, this decade promises to be filled with encouraging contraceptive breakthroughs for both men and women.

A quick round-up of what we may be in store for includes:

  • A vaginal ring that lasts for one year and costs under $10
  • A hormonal implant for women that can last as long as an IUD and costs $3
  • Reversible sterilization for men that can be undone by injection
  • Underclothing for men that acts as a long acting contraceptive agent

While these breakthroughs are important because they get us closer to the day when the burden for contraception doesn’t fall on women alone, I can’t help but feel conflicted about birth control as a woman of color. This is because some of the birth control breakthroughs many women enjoy today have been at the expense of low-income women of color. Bianca I. Laureano over at RH Reality Check articulated this powerfully while many celebrated the 50th anniversary of the pill:

I’ve mentioned before that hippie immigrant Puerto Rican parents raised me in the US. One of the messages that was transmitted to me as a young Puerto Rican woman growing up was that the birth control pill kills Puerto Rican women. And it did.

Excuse me if I do not partake in all of the celebration of The 50th Anniversary of The Pill because from my perspective it is still very much a reminder of the exploitation and violation of human rights among Puerto Ricans (and Haitians, and working class women in general) that continues today. Ignoring this reality is easy. Yet, it is a part of my, our history that I can’t simply forget or overlook.

The thorny ethics issues that surround the nature of the clinical trials attached to these pending birth control options would have probably soured  an article hailing reproductive health innovation as one method of fighting global poverty. But the linkage between poverty reduction and birth control was also used to justify holding the clinical trials for the oral contraceptive in Puerto Rico. While informed consent is now the law of the land, how clinical doctors interpret these subjective principles and the complex legal precedents involved is something that should remain in the conversation as we evaluate reproductive health breakthroughs.

Join the Conversation

  • Kristy James

    So far, my most affordable and reliable form of contraception has been to avoid men altogether. I mean, really, the world is over populate at it is, why play with more fire?

    • Martine

      That works for you, but a lot of people enjoy having sex for various mental and physical benefits (e.g. stress relief, exercise, emotional intimacy, orgasms).

      There are risks that people take every day because they’ve decided that the net benefits outweigh the change of a negative outcome: driving, playing a sport, hell, even leaving your house in the morning — all could be “playing with fire”. You could sustain a life-changing injury, you could even die, from any of those things. But ultimately it is up to the person making the choice to do what is best for them and their circumstances. And really, when you have access to safe, effective, and affordable birth control, it’s less “playing with fire”and more “participating in a calculated low-risk activity.”

      • Vanessa

        I’m guessing that you meant to say that some people enjoy having penis-in-vagina sex rather than just sex in general, but I wanted to clarify because the way the comment was worded makes it sound like you can’t have sex without risking pregnancy. There are many ways you can have sex that has zero risk of pregnancy (same-sex, solo, oral, etc.), but your point still stands. PIV intercourse is still important to a lot of people, and they should be able to partake in it with access to affordable and effective contraception.

  • zill222

    The cost for th implant is $3, does that include the cost of the doctor’s visit and the gauze and the ultrasound and all that extra crap you get charged for and they can’t tell you until afterward it is over?

    I am all in favor of cheaper birth control but I am really in favor of cheaper healthcare all together.

  • Emma

    Kristof says women may be asking, “Where’s the progress if a woman still has to pump herself full of hormones to avoid pregnancy? Where’s the burden-sharing with men?”

    Frankly, I’m not concerned about burden-sharing – for those of us not in a long-term, trustworthy monogamous relationship with a man, that isn’t relevant. But I am still asking why it is that women, even if all these options come to market, have to pump themselves full of hormones (while they promise men a nice little plug!)? The only reliable, easy-to-use non-hormonal method for women is the Paragard IUD, and that won’t always take for women who have never been pregnant. So we get to take our choice of side effects – would you prefer to have weight gain, osteopenia, or loss of sex drive?

    • andrea

      I’m desperately awaiting the day when I can have reliable, effective, non-hormonal and non-invasive birth control. I don’t want a plastic OR copper T in my uterus (one-size fits all, and as a small person I tend to get wicked cramps from the bloody things); I don’t want ‘just another hormonal method': yeast infections, breast growth, low sex drive, increased moodiness & PMS effects are just some of the very immediate side-effects. Condoms aren’t effective enough, either. And, when I did try to get a tubal ligation I had to call a dozen different doctors who all told me the same thing: ‘you’re too young, you might want kids some day.’

      So what is a girl to do?

    • Kim

      I completely agree Emma. For years I was uncomfortable with hormonal birth control, for all the reasons you listed and more. Even IUDs are not an option for me because I am allergic to copper. I’d like to look into sterilization but being in my early 20s, I fear it will be a difficult process.

      I too have mixed feelings about the pill, as the author states, and have even been suggested as being “unfeminist” in my criticism of it. While the control it has given women over their reproduction is wonderful, every time I see an article celebrating it I can’t help but wonder why I don’t see more mention of natural methods such as the Fertility Awareness Method, especially on feminist blogs. Most of the information I see written about it is by commenters, not the authors. and Toni Weschler’s book “Taking Charge of Your Fertility” have answered all my hopes in natural birth control. While not as ideal for non-monogamous relationships (where you should be using a condom because of STIs anyway), it’s incredibly easy to use and reliable once you get the hang of it. I don’t consider it anymore complicated than remembering to take a pill every day.

  • Andrew

    Maybe I missed some important fact here but you state that the pill has killed women. Well that interested me as I never knew that so I followed your links but am very disappointed.

    In your link it states that no autopsy was done on two women that were supposedly perfectly healthy. I don’t understand where you’ve made this jump to “fact” that the pill killed them. Anything could have killed them.

    Apart from that the underclothing sounds interesting but impractical to be honest. I’m assuming it’s using the technique of pushing the testis closer to the body which raises their temperature killing sperm. I’d feel much better about taking a male pill or having an implant then wearing some weird underwear where if I’m not careful is ineffective and also hurts or is uncomfortable.

    I think that even if these new contraceptives were available it wouldn’t stop my partner from taking the pill as she does so for reasons more then just contraception. I think it’s important to highlight that a lot of women have real issues with their periods and taking the pill gives them relief.