To Encourage Support And Contributions Toward Contraceptive Innovation
I’m confident that all of the birth control options that exist today can and do work well for some people.
But for many people (including myself) finding an acceptable form of birth control is a trial and error, arduous search for the right hormonal cocktail with the least negative side effects. Non-hormonal methods exist, but come with their own inconveniences, risks, and potential side effects too. Some people (including myself) spend years of their life experimenting. Others choose to accept certain side effects, considering them “worth it” in exchange for not getting pregnant.
I have tried a few methods of birth control, all of which have left either myself or my partner frustrated or in pain. My story is just one of the many millions of stories from people who are striving for reproductive control without negative side effects.
One of the reasons why I started Gold Hormones is to encourage contributions toward contraceptive innovation. Both people with and without a uterus need more and better options for birth control. Unfortunately, birth control research has received less funding each decade since 1980. Innovation in this space is not a priority for most pharmaceutical companies. If we want better birth control options for ourselves and for generations to come, then we are going to have to work for it.
To be clear, contraceptive innovation is different from contraceptive access. Access is about making the tools needed to protect sexual and reproductive health (like scientifically accurate and evidence based information, birth control products, and reproductive healthcare services) easily available. There are many public, private, and philanthropic organizations fighting for contraceptive access. I wholeheartedly support the fight for access, but it is not my main focus.
Gold Hormones exists because there are not enough organizations or individuals fighting for the creation of better birth control products.
I hope that by sharing my experiences with birth control, others will feel empowered to share their experiences too. Creating awareness is the first step towards enacting change. By telling our stories, we can encourage public, private, and philanthropic organizations to allocate more resources (i.e. funding and researchers) toward developing better contraception.
In the meantime, here are some other things we can do to help advance contraceptive research:
Share birth control clinical trials with people who may be eligible and interested in participating:
Report negative side effects of prescription contraceptives to the FDA at www.fda.gov/medwatch or call 1-800-FDA-1088.
Vote for leaders who support reproductive healthcare rights
Donate to organizations that conduct birth control research studies and clinical trials, such as:
Contraceptive Research Branch (CRB) of the Department of Health and Human Services: https://www.nichd.nih.gov/about/org/der/branches/crb/foas
Bixby Center for Global and Reproductive Health: https://bixbycenter.ucsf.edu/research-and-programs
Magee-Women’s Research Institute and Foundation: https://mageewomens.org/for-researchers/research-centers/center-for-family-planning-research-cfpr
Oregon Permanent Contraception Research Center: https://www.ohsu.edu/oregon-permanent-contraception-research-center
Universities within the Contraceptive Clinical Trials Network (CCTN): https://www.nichd.nih.gov/research/supported/cctn
Sexuality is a fundamental part of human existence. So much so, that it is hard to overstate the tremendous impact that contraceptives have had for people with a uterus:
- Sexual freedom without unwanted pregnancy
- Obviously! This is the #1 reason why people use contraception.
- Treatment for various hormonal ailments
- For example, hormonal birth control can help alleviate symptoms of dysmenorrhea (painful periods), menorrhagia (heavy periods), Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), and more.
- A form of emergency contraception
- The “morning after” pill temporarily delays the release of an egg from the ovary, so that there is no egg to meet the sperm. No egg = no fertilization = no pregnancy. This is especially useful for rape victims, but also for anyone that has unprotected sex.
- The Copper IUD also lowers people’s chances of getting pregnant if inserted within 5 days of unprotected sex.
- The ability to:
- Choose when they have their first child
- Limit the number of children they have
- Control the spacing of those children
- Expanded opportunity in economic advancement and educational attainment
- Fully one-third of the wage gains women have made since the 1960s are the result of access to oral contraceptives.
- Being able to get the pill before age 21 has been found to be the most influential factor in enabling women already in college to stay in college.
Birth control is a wide-spread, long-term need. Although contraceptives have come a long way since the first pill was introduced in 1960, there is still massive room for improvement.
In today’s world, a person with a uterus using any form of birth control is at risk of experiencing — at best inconvenient and at worst life-threatening — negative side effects.
According to a report released in February 2013 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), among women of reproductive age who had sexual intercourse, 47% of those who had ever used at least one contraceptive method had discontinued using a method due to dissatisfaction.
Particularly telling are the data on women who had used certain hormonal methods: 30% of pill users, 46% of injectable users, and 49% of patch users stopped using those methods due to dissatisfaction.
By far, the top reason why users of these three hormonal methods discontinued use from dissatisfaction was side effects, which was cited by 63% of pill users, 74% of injectable users, and 45% of patch users.
A few of the other reasons for dissatisfaction among discontinuers included worry about side effects, menstrual cycle changes, and difficulty of use.
The CDC report also noted that method switching is common among contraceptive users: The median number of methods ever used by women was about three, and for 30% of women, it was five or more.
I fit into those statistics myself: Since Fertility Awareness and condoms did not give me or my partner the peace of mind or convenience that we need, I started using hormonal birth control.
People without a uterus only have two options to help share the contraceptive responsibility: condoms or vasectomy, the latter of which is permanent.
It is clear that:
- We need more research to develop more satisfactory contraception with less side effects.
- We need more research to develop contraception for people without a uterus, so that they can help share the responsibility, too.
- We need more research to develop multipurpose prevention technologies (MPTs) that prevent both pregnancy AND sexually transmitted infections.
And research requires resources.
According to a 2013 Guttmacher Institute Policy Review, new drug discovery and development is led by the private sector (i.e. large pharmaceutical and biotech companies). Unfortunately, these companies have abandoned the field of contraceptive research and development. Given the popularity and profitability of birth control pills, new methods—especially those not dependent on daily consumption—don’t have the allure of similar profits. Moreover, contraceptive drugs seem to have steeper hurdles to overcome for safety and efficacy testing than other drugs, which may dissuade companies from time-consuming and costly investments. Consequently, to the extent that the private sector has remained active, its resources have been focused largely on adapting existing contraceptive technologies, rather than developing new and innovative methods.
Against this backdrop, the public and philanthropic sector have an increasingly large void in funding to fill. Although exact figures are difficult to obtain, a 2010 review by the Gates Foundation estimated that donors from the developed world committed $85 million yearly toward the global contraceptive technology pipeline. When adjusted for inflation, this amount represents a $39 million decline from 1980 levels. At the same time, an estimated doubling of the current investment on a yearly basis is needed just to fully support products already in the research and development pipeline.