New birth control methods

Implanon: Approved by the FDA in July 2006, Implanon consists of one rod implanted under the skin that releases low doses of the hormone progestin. It prevents pregnancy for three years and can be removed anytime in a procedure that takes only minutes. It’s an alternative for women who can’t use contraceptives containing estrogen (smokers, for example) and who don’t want to think about birth control. It’s 99.9 percent effective and expected to be widely available in 2007.

Plan B: Recently approved by the FDA for over-the-counter use in women 18 and older, Plan B is emergency birth control consisting of two high doses of progestin, which are taken after a woman has had unprotected sex. Women under 18 can obtain it with a prescription. It can work up to 120 hours after sex, but it’s most effective if taken within 24 hours. Not intended for use as regular birth control, its purpose is for emergency contraception after a condom breaks, after a sexual assault or other unexpected sex occurs, or if a woman forgets to take her pill. At $25-40 per pack for two pills, it’s significantly more costly than regular birth control, making it a poor “Plan A” option. The FDA says it won’t work if a woman is already pregnant, and it won’t affect an existing pregnancy. Currently available by prescription, it should be readily found over-the-counter in 2007.

Continuous Contraception: Pills that either limit or take away a woman’s period completely are now on the market or about to be. Approved in 2003, Seasonale limits a woman’s period to four per year. Lybrel is anticipating FDA approval in 2007 and will stop periods altogether. Active Seasonale pills are used for 84 consecutive days, followed by one week of inactive pills, which is when a woman has a period. Lybrel is used continuously with no breaks. Then there’s Seasonique, which was approved in May 2006. It has seven days of low-dose estrogen pills instead of placebo pills to allow for a period with fewer hormonal fluctuations. These pills are 99 percent effective.

Nuva Ring: Approved in 2001, Nuva Ring is inserted in the vagina once a month. It’s a one-size fits all, two-inch ring that prevents ovulation by releasing estrogen and progestin, working the same as birth control pills. When women remove it during the week of menstruation, they’re still protected. It’s 99 percent effective.

Ortho Evra: Approved in 2001, Ortho Evra works just like the Pill, but it’s a patch that only needs to be changed every three weeks. It’s removed the fourth week for menstruation. It’s two inches wide and can be placed nearly anywhere on the skin. It’s 99 percent effective.

Essure: Approved in 2002 as an alternative to tubal ligation, Essure doesn’t require any incisions, relying instead on local anesthesia and intravenous sedation in a 35-minute procedure for irreversible birth control. A nickel-titanium and stainless steel coil is inserted into each fallopian tube. Over three months, the body forms scar tissue around the coils, keeping them in place and blocking the tubes. It may take more than one try to place the coils. Essure was found to be 99.8 percent effective in a four-year follow-up study.

For men: It’s apparently easier to control one egg than millions of sperm, so there’s still nothing beyond the irreversible vasectomy for men’s birth control. But researchers are working on sperm-blocking plugs, as well as a hormonal method of birth control that uses excess testosterone to turn off sperm production and a method to immunize men against certain proteins necessary for fertilization. So far, there’s still a long way to go with all of these methods.

*Note: None of the above methods protect against AIDS, HIV or other STDs. Talk to your doctor about potential side effects for individual contraceptives.