As We Hit 7 Billion, Behold the Future of Contraception!

This Monday, as the world’s 7 billionth baby was being born somewhere on the planet, I was sitting in a conference room in Seattle catching a glimpse of the future of contraception. I was at, in fact, the Future of Contraception Initiative, where 200 of science’s brightest minds revealed their progress toward the next big things in birth control.

In a world of 7 billion, 215 million women still lack access to family planning–an unacceptable figure that must be addressed. It’s not about forcing women and men to have fewer children, but rather ensuring that they have the options and ability to make reproductive choices. We know that when that happens, lower birth rates follow.

To that end, those who met in Seattle this weekend are committed to more effective, convenient and accessible birth control. And from what I saw, they have some fascinating new ideas. Here’s a sneak peek:

  • Male Contraception is COMING SOON: The hype every few years about a “male Pill” can seem like the boy crying wolf, but now the wolf really is on the way. U.S. trials of an “injectable vasectomy,” invented by an Indian scientist, may begin as soon as 2012, with an eye to FDA approval. A whole host of other options–gels, implants, pills and injections–are also in the works. For more on male contraception prospects, check out the Male Contraception Information Project (or look for my article in the next issue of Ms.!)
  • Vaginal Rings Are the New Black: You’ve heard of the NuvaRing, but many more are on the way: rings that last for 3 months, 6 months or even an entire year; rings with various alternative hormones; rings with added microbicides to prevent HIV infection. The progesterone-only vaginal ring currently on the market in several countries in South America is one of the few contraceptives appropriate for nursing mothers, allowing women to more easily space births.
  • Non-Hormonal Methods: For people who don’t want to–or can’t–take hormones, the latest research is on isolating the genetic mechanisms that control fertility. For example, instead of pumping your entire body with hormones to regulate just ovulation, you could zero in on the cell-level activities responsible for an egg’s release or a sperm’s movement. This would allow targeted contraception, thereby improving effectiveness and reducing side effects. Go science!
  • Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger Birth Control: There’s a lot of work being done to improve what’s already out there: tweaking dosages, changing delivery methods and building on what works and what people like. For instance, in the works are a birth control pill you can take after sex (but different from emergency contraception) and an IUD–currently selling millions in China–that contains a tiny amount of a drug similar to ibuprofen in order to prevent post-insertion bleeding right where it starts, in the uterus.
Thousands more scientists, donors, advocates and policymakers will gather at the landmark International Conference on Family Planning in Dakar, Senegal later this month. Their goal is to make sure global leaders will front the money and the political support needed to make birth control access a reality for all of the world’s women. For updates, follow @FPDakar on Twitter.
Curious to learn more about whether a male “Pill” or injectable is really on the horizon? Jessica Mack explores the issue in-depth in the forthcoming Fall issue of Ms. Join the Ms. community now, in time to get the Fall 2011 issue delivered to your door!
ABOVE: Photo of birth control pills from Wikimedia Commons


Jessica is a global women's rights advocate and writer. She is a global contributor for RH Reality Check and you can also sometimes find her writing at AlterNet and Feministe. She currently lives in Seattle and enjoys bhangra dancing, Kanye West, and all types of cheese.