Let’s Talk Contraception: New Developments in Contraceptives for Women

Image: Microchips Biotechnology

Image: Microchips Biotechnology

With the availability of an array of birth control methods ranging from pills to patches, from rings to shots, from male condoms to female condoms, and from implants to intrauterine devices, you might think there is no need for further research into contraception. But not all women around the world have access to the choices that many of us reading this article might take for granted. In fact, many have no access to contraceptives at all.


What do you think about a birth control implant that lasts 16 years and can be activated by remote control?


The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is leading the charge in the development of new types of contraceptives for women, especially those who live in areas of the world without easy access to modern contraceptives. According to the World Health Organization, 225 million women in developing countries would like to delay or stop childbearing, but are not using any method of contraception. By giving large grants through their foundation, Bill and Melinda Gates are providing the financial backing for contraceptive research and drug development, which will enable women worldwide to take control of their health — and the health of their children.

In 2012, the Gates Foundation granted Microchips Biotech $6.7 million to develop a microchip implant containing the hormone levonorgestrel (which is a hormone in many oral birth control pills). This very small device, which measures only 20 millimeters by 20 millimeters by 7 millimeters, contains an internal battery and a microchip holding tiny reservoirs of the hormone. The device is implanted under the skin of a woman’s buttocks, upper arm, or abdomen. Once implanted, it releases 30 micrograms of levonorgestrel into the body each day when a small electrical charge inside the chip melts an ultra-thin seal around the hormone reservoir to release the daily dose of medication. Continue reading

Pro-Choice Friday News Rundown

  • teacher and studentsApparently there’s a weird subset of people who think teaching kids medically accurate, age-appropriate information about sexuality, reproduction, and sexual health will unleash some sort of rabid sex demon upon these poor kids and they’ll lose every ounce of their innocence! So to prevent that from happening, the folks out in Gilbert are censoring factual information from text books. (AZ Central)
  • The co-creator of the birth control pill thinks all sex will be for fun by 2050. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? (Jezebel)
  • As many as 8 million women haven’t been screened for cervical cancer (via Pap testing) in the past five years! (ABC News)
  • The best thing about this piece on why unplanned births are a bigger calamity than unmarried parents? This quotation: “Empowering people to have children only when they themselves say they want them, and feel prepared to be parents, would do more than any current social program to reduce poverty and improve the life prospects of children.” (The Atlantic)
  • My home state, Ohio, is leading the charge to enact the most extreme abortion bill in the nation. HB 248 would ban abortion as soon as the fetal heartbeat can be detected (around six weeks gestation) and has a fair chance of passing since Ohio’s House and Senate are controlled by Republicans. (Cleveland.com)
  • Americans have short memories when it comes to remembering what life was like pre-Roe v. Wade. From hospitals having to have “septic abortion wards” dedicated to treating women for complications from unsafe, illegal procedures and botched self-abortion attempts, to thousands of women dying from their injuries, it really was a harrowing, scary time in our history. We hold out hope that those days are behind us forever. (Think Progress)
  • India’s government sponsored a “population control” effort, which pays women to undergo sterilization, botched an obscene amount of the surgical procedures, killing 12 women and injuring dozens more. Positively sickening. (NY Times)
  • Anti-gay, anti-birth control, anti-abortion, anti-common sense, intolerant religious fanatic Cathi Herrod continues to wreak absolute havoc upon the political landscape in Arizona. (Media Matters)
  • The longstanding ban on gay men giving blood donations may soon be lifted. The caveat? The men will have to be celibate from homosexual sex for at least a year. (Slate)
  • Despite my own history as a clinic escort, my blood still boils at the sight of “sidewalk counselors” who hatefully troll women seeking reproductive health care. (Cosmopolitan)

Eight Great Heat-Friendly Contraceptives

heat friendlyI don’t know if any of my fellow Arizonans have noticed, but it’s hot. It’s been hot. And all sources tell me that it’s likely to remain hot for a couple of months yet.

There are, of course, things we can do to make the heat more manageable for ourselves, such as drinking plenty of water and relegating intense outdoor activity to the early morning or late evening hours. There are also things we can do to help our contraceptives beat the heat if necessary, such as storing condoms or birth control pills away from extreme heat.

Still, some types of contraception require more intervention during the summer than do others. So — our top eight types of heat-friendly birth control!

Quick disclaimer: I made this list based on the single criterion that these methods are unlikely to be affected by the heat of an Arizona summer. When selecting a contraceptive method, there are loads of other factors to consider. So the methods on this list are not necessarily the most effective or appropriate methods for every person needing birth control.

8 Birth Control Vaginal Ring (NuvaRing)

  • Why It’s Heat Friendly: In terms of storage, it’s technically not; NuvaRing comes with the same temperature recommendations as oral contraceptive pills. However, since the ring is only inserted once per month, folks getting their rings one at a time don’t have to worry about longer-term storage.
  • Cons: In addition to the same risks and side effects of estrogen-containing contraceptives, NuvaRing isn’t the heat-friendliest choice for users getting more than one month at a time. Continue reading

The History of the Birth Control Pill, Part 5: Clinical Trials

Gregory Pincus, Min-Chueh Chang, and John Rock, three scientists employed by Margaret Sanger and Katharine McCormick to develop the birth control pill.

Gregory Pincus, Min-Chueh Chang, and John Rock were hired by Margaret Sanger and Katharine McCormick to develop the birth control pill.

Welcome to the fifth installment of our series chronicling the history of the birth control pill. In the previous installment, Margaret Sanger and Katharine McCormick envisioned and bankrolled the development of the birth control pill. Now it had to be tested in large-scale trials.

John Rock, Gregory Pincus, and Min-Chueh Chang had collaborated in the Pill’s development; now it was time to conduct clinical trials. The first study observed 60 women, some of whom were infertility patients while others were nurses. These small trials involved daily temperature readings, vaginal smears, and urine samples, as well as monthly endometrial biopsies. Although the initial results seemed promising, the sample size was small and few of the subjects complied with the protocol.


The approval of the Pill in 1960 marked a turning point in our history.


More test subjects were needed. At this point, historians’ accounts differ. Elaine Tyler May claims that, unable to locate an acceptable pool of volunteers, the researchers tested the Pill on subjects who could not give their consent, such as psychiatric patients. According to Bernard Asbell, however, Rock was scrupulous when it came to informed consent, despite it not being a legal requirement — or even much of a concept at all at this time in history.

Willing participants notwithstanding, conducting such trials in the United States posed a challenge, due to laws against contraception. So the first large-scale clinical trials were conducted in Puerto Rico in 1956. Puerto Rico was densely populated and there was a high demand for alternatives to permanent sterilization, which was widespread on the island due to funding from a wealthy eugenicist named Clarence Gamble, who advocated sterilization for the world’s poor. The clinical trials in Puerto Rico were conducted by Drs. Edris Rice-Wray and Adaline Sattherthwaite; the brand of birth control pill tested was named Enovid. Volunteers were so easy to come by that some clinics had waiting lists. Continue reading