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.