What's New in Contraception?
The 21st century has brought many new innovations in women’s health care including a new era of
contraception. Just in the last few years the choices of contraception have multiplied to accommodate
convenience, health issues, and accessibility. Take a look at some of the latest methods to hit the market and
also some of the methods that are on the horizon!
New Contraception Methods:
Seasonale: This is one of the newest methods of contraception, just approved by the FDA in
early September, 2003. Seasonale is the first and only extended-cycle birth control pill, allowing for
women to have only 4 periods a year. This pill is made up of the same ingredients as other oral contraceptives,
but is taken on a different schedule than other popular hormonal methods. The Seasonale pack contains
84 active pills and 7 inactive pills causing menstrual bleeding to happen only once every 3 months. Studies
show Seasonale to have the same side effects and effectiveness rates as other types of oral
- Pros: Convenience, allowing for only 4 periods a year; relief for
those women who experience painful menstruation and severe PMS
- Cons: Can cause more spotting and break through bleeding than
other oral contraceptives; cost is slightly higher per year than monthly pill packs; women are exposed to
slightly higher amount of hormones yearly than with a monthly pill.
Essure: The newest type of permanent birth control method available that is an alternative
to tubal ligation. Essure was approved by the FDA in late 2002 after being used in other countries with great
success. Essure provides a permanent type of birth control without any type of surgical procedure or incisions.
Essure is made of a flexible device called a micro-insert. The micro-insert is inserted into the fallopian
tubes, where body tissue will then grow into it, causing blockage in the fallopian tubes. This prevents
fertilization by blocking the sperm from reaching an egg. The device can be inserted by your health care
provider and it usually takes about 35 minutes for the procedure, followed by a 45 minute evaluation time. Most
women can return to normal activities within 24-48 hours of the procedure. Essure has been found to be more
than 99% effective in preventing pregnancy in the first 3 yrs of use. The most common side effects are light
bleeding, mild cramping, nausea and vomiting following the insertion procedure.
- Pros: Non surgical procedure; permanent method of contraception;
contains no hormones; 99% effective; can resume normal activities within 1-2 days; requires no general
- Cons: Not reversible; have to use a back up method for at least 3
months after insertion, 1 in 7 women experience a problem with the procedure not working in both fallopian
tubes after initial insertion; studies have only been done on effectiveness up to 3 yrs
Ortho Evra Contraceptive Patch: The Patch is a new hormonal alternative to the birth
control pill. This thin patch is placed on the body once a week for 3 weeks and then removed for one week to
allow for a menstrual period. Hormones are continuously released through the skin into the bloodstream, to
prevent pregnancy. The patch seems to have similar side effects as the birth control pill and has a 99%
effective rate when used correctly. The patch is available by prescription only.
- Pros: Only have to remember once a week; easy to hide; may cause
less nausea and headaches than other types of hormonal contraceptives
- Cons: May be less effective for women over 200 lbs; may cause
skin irritation. For more information, see Birth Control Patch
Lunelle Injection: Injections of synthetic hormones are given once a month, every 28-30
days. These shots must be given in a physicians office and they have similar side effects as oral
contraceptives. The Lunelle injection is more than 99% effective in preventing pregnancy if injections are
given on time.
- Pros: No medication to remember to take; may result in shorter
periods; highly effective
- Cons: Have to go to physician’s office once a month for
injection; may cause spotting and irregular bleeding. For more information, see Lunelle Injection
Vaginal Ring: The vaginal ring called the NuvaRing, sits in the vagina releasing synthetic
hormones and is worn for 21 days and then removed for 7 to allow for a menstrual period. The NuvaRing does
require a prescription but does not have to be inserted by a physician. The vaginal ring has similar side
effects to that of oral contraception including headaches, breast tenderness and nausea. NuvaRing is 98%
effective when used correctly.
- Pros: Only have to insert monthly; does not require a medication
- Cons: Can result in vaginal irritation; requires monthly
insertion and removal. For more information, see Vaginal Ring
Mirena Intrauterine Device: The Intrauterine Device (IUD) has been around for decades, but
a new twist has been added to allow for more women to able to use this convenient approach to birth control.
The Mirena IUD releases a low dose of progesterone into the uterus causing the lining to thin. The Mirena IUD
can be left in place for up to 5 years and has an effectiveness rate of over 99%. This progesterone only IUD
can cause irregular bleeding for the first 6 months of use, but then seems to taper off resulting in lighter
monthly periods. The IUD is only available through a doctor and can be inserted in a short office visit.
- Pros: Lasts up to 5 years; normally leads to lighter or absent
periods over time; contains no estrogen; can be used by women who have never been pregnant before
- Cons: Can cause irregular bleeding and spotting; some women
experience cramping; women may have hormonal reactions to progesterone.
Lea Shield: The Lea Shield is similar to the diaphragm and cervical cap, but was made to be
very user friendly. This dome shaped silicone device covers the cervix, allowing for secretions to exit without
sperm entering in. The Lea Shield can be inserted hours before intercourse and is to be left in place for at
least 8 hours afterwards. The shield is to be used with spermicide and is available only through a physician.
The effectiveness rate is thought to be at about 86-91%, but it has not been on the market long enough for
conclusive results to be established.
- Pros: Reusable; can be inserted hours before intercourse occurs;
has a loop to aid in insertion and removal
- Cons: Has not been out long enough to have conclusive studies
done; can be uncomfortable for some women to insert
What’s to Come in Contraception?
The future of contraception seems to be even more innovative than the present! Studies are currently being
done on devices that predict fertility, a 24 hour spermicide, a pregnancy vaccine, a new implant device, and a
male birth control pill. What will they think of next?