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Contraception Tech Breakthroughs May Change Birth Control As We Know It

Image courtesy of nebarnix via Flickr; pills via Open Clip Art

From animal-tissue condoms, to latex and the advent of the birth control pill, contraception technology has seen growth in sophistication over the years thanks to scientific innovation.

But even today’s plethora of contraceptives aren’t 100 percent perfect — with the exception of abstinence, of course — which is why scientists are pushing the limits to give humans stronger, and wider spread control over family planning.

Normal contraception aside, some forms of emerging birth control seem like science fiction, and hold great promise for safer more accurate reproductive control. Here are some examples of the more radical breakthroughs.

Longer lasting

One major goal for researchers is to develop contraception methods that are of greater convenience to more people. For example, contraceptive rings currently must be replaced monthly, but new research could lead to a ring that would, instead, last for a whole year.

Additionally, a new diaphragm demonstrates extreme convenience in longevity: women can apply it without the help of a physician, and reuse it for up to three years.

Gels for men and women

Pills aren’t the only way to get birth control medications into one’s system; in fact, they may not be the best way. Research by the Population Council, an international nonprofit, finds that when applied to skin, contraception gel could successfully suppress ovulation in women.

For men, a product called Vasagel, rather than being applied to skin is injected into a man’s vas deferens to block sperm on a long-term but reversible basis. If human trials prove successful, it may be on the market by 2017.

Switching roles: pills for men, condoms for women

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[contextly_sidebar id=”6ouxNLmdOdlcxwqwrcO2aQ5pxOk3F3Jm”]Also changing the gender dynamic for birth control, in which traditionally men use condoms and women, a daily pill, the choice to reverse these roles is closer than we think.

Female condoms are already on the market, but newer versions being prototyped include an easily inserted air-infused condom, condoms with reusable applicators, and even condoms designed to preserve or enhance pleasure.

A handful of male birth control pills are also being developed, which depending on the type can keep sperm from reaching maturity or trick the body into forgetting how to make sperm. Because researchers don’t know the long-term effect of hormones, however, it could be decades before these hit the market.

Use as needed

Though birth control pills for women are popular, they have numerous downsides; for example, they can be easily weakened by inconsistency or forgetfulness, require everyday use regardless of sexual activity, and can have hormonal side effects.

For this reason, female condoms are attractive, as are numerous other options that require just one-time use. These include a single dose of vaginal gel, pills that need only be taken once a month, and pericoital pills (taken before intercourse).

Apps-inence

For those that would rather not to use hormonal or other contraceptive tools, there’s technology to aid you in your mission, too — specifically, apps for your mobile phone.

If you prefer the family planning route, the app Natural Cycle could be 99 percent effective if used correctly. Women can track their cycles by logging their basal body temperature and other indicators to track when they are most likely to get pregnant, and most likely not to be fertile.

Microchips

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Lastly, perhaps the most radical form of birth control — and one that truly puts the tech in contraception technology — may be the remote-control microchip implant.

Implanted under skin for up to a period of 16 years, the microchip delivers birth control hormones into your system as needed, and can literally be switched on and off by the touch of the button.

The technology, currently being developed and tested by MicroCHIPS, has implications beyond birth control: it could deliver any medication to a person on demand or on schedule, so long as they aren’t too squeamish for the initial implant.

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Jennifer Markert