At the beginning of this year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a new birth control option named Phexxi — a non-hormonal contraceptive gel. This marks the first non-hormonal contraceptive to win FDA approval in decades and it brings another contraceptive option to the market for women in the United States. This is huge, as many patients in the U.S. still have to jump through hoops to access contraceptive options.
A majority of the available contraceptives on the market contain hormones, but not everyone can take a medication that impacts their hormones, as some people experience side effects such as pain, nausea, and headaches. It is also important to note that some birth control pills, such as Yaz, can increase your risk for developing blood clots and heart problems, like a stroke or heart attack. In the past, women seeking non-hormonal options had few to choose from, as the available options consisted of condoms, the copper IUD, diaphragms, and sponges. This September those options widened a bit, as Phexxi is now available.
So, how does Phexxi work? It works by making pH levels in the vagina, which are typically between 3.8 and 4.5, uninhabitable to sperm. During sex, vaginal pH levels increase to create a more alkaline environment that protects the sperm and in turn encourages fertilization. When applied up to an hour before penis-in-vagina sex, Phexxi uses vaginal pH levels to create an acidic environment that prevents fertilization by maintaining normal vaginal pH (within the vagina’s normal pre-sex range). The gel is made of lactic acid, citric acid, and potassium bitartrate and comes in a box of 12 pre-filled applicators, each with a 5-gram dose for $267.50. Phexxi can be utilized on its own or alongside barrier methods, such as condoms or diaphragms, to increase effectiveness.
Although there has some innovation in the field recently as Twirla, a low-dose transdermal patch, will be on the market soon, but more work needs to be done to ensure that new contraceptive options satisfy the needs and preferences of women and their partners. Contraceptive choice can empower women to make decisions about their own body and health, but we must address barriers to birth control access (such as cost, employers having the ability to opt out of the ACA’s Mandate on birth control coverage based on religious or moral grounds, too few options to choose from, slow FDA approval processes, and a lack of knowledge on the available options) to ensure that everyone has a contraception option that works best for them.
This conversation has been further expanded by Agile Therapeutics, a women’s healthcare company that is dedicated to fulfilling the unmet health needs of today’s women. Their unbranded I’m So Done campaign hopes to inspire women to take an active role in choosing their birth control. It intends to enhance the birth control conversation for women by encouraging education on contraceptive care options, facilitating an honest discussion between patients and healthcare providers, and creating a social community on Facebook and Instagram to reassure women that they are not alone.
Blog by Mackenzie Flynn, NOW PAC Intern