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What's the future of contraception?

There are already many contraception choices but no method is perfect and totally free of side effects. However, scientists are studying various new forms right now. It means that in the future, there should be better options for couples who want to avoid pregnancy.

A research paper in 2012 stated: "steady progress in contraception research has been achieved over the past 50 years. However, the contraceptives available today are not suitable to all users, and the need to expand contraceptive choices still exists."

The following examples of future contraception methods are just a few of the exciting possibilities being explored right now.

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Fertility apps

Apps are now available to help women track their cycle. This can help to avoid sex during the fertile part of the cycle when you could become pregnant. The current apps range from a simple calendar to more complex (and more reliable) versions that require the user to take their temperature every day.

It is thought that more and more women will start using fertility apps as technology improves. Examples of popular apps include Kindara and Natural Cycles. But fertility trackers can be less reliable than other methods, especially if your cycle varies in length.

Contraceptive implants

Implants are being used by an increasing number of women. Small rods are inserted under the skin and release a hormone. The implants currently being used can be removed if you no longer need or want the implant. Researchers are now developing implants that don't need to be surgically removed. Biodegradable implants that dissolve after a certain time will soon be an option.

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The male pill

Potential male pills have been studied for many years but concerns over side effects have meant there still isn't one available. However, there are different opinions as to why male contraception hasn't advanced beyond the two options of condoms or vasectomy.

One leading contraception research scientist, Carl Djerassi, blamed a lack of priority given by the pharmaceutical companies and believed a male pill would never be available for political and economic reasons.

He said in an interview with the Independent in 2014: "This has nothing to do with science; we know exactly how to develop them. But there's not a single pharmaceutical company that will touch this, for economic and socio-political rather than scientific reasons. Their focus is on diseases of a geriatric population: [type 2] diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular, Alzheimer's. Male contraception is nothing compared with an anti-obesity drug."

Gamendazole is a potential candidate for a male pill. It works by interfering with sperm production without affecting testosterone levels. Animal studies have shown promising results and further safety trials are due in the near future.

The Clean Sheets® pill is a hormone-free method that works by relaxing the muscles of the tube carrying the semen and sperm (vas deferens) and this inhibits the movement of the semen and sperm. This may also reduce the risk of transmitting HIV. The Clean Sheets® pill has shown promising results in animal studies, but this hasn't yet progressed to further research studies.

There are other potential male pills at various stages of research and development. Other examples include gendarussa (a non-hormonal pill derived from the plant Justicia gendarussa) and Eppin (epididymal protease inhibitor).

The male injection

Vasalgel® is a polymer gel that is injected into the vas deferens. The gel keeps sperm from getting through by creating a barrier. Animal studies have shown Vasalgel® to be very effective and it is easily reversible with an injection of sodium bicarbonate. Clinical trials are expected to begin in the near future.

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The Fertility Chip

The Fertility Chip® is a tiny microchip inserted under the skin. It releases the hormone levonorgestrel for 16 years. The release of the hormone can be controlled remotely and so can be switched off if the woman wanted to conceive. The Fertility Chip® has been developed by Bill Gates with researchers in the USA. It could have a major benefit for women, especially for women in the developing world. The Fertility Chip® is scheduled for release in 2018.

Contraceptive vaccines

Another area of research is the development of a vaccine that would provide contraception by attacking certain chemical targets in the human reproductive system. The main targets so far have been the hormone follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) in men and the hormone human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) in women. The vaccines wear off after about one year. So far contraceptive vaccines have not been shown to be effective and there are concerns about side-effects. However, work continues and vaccines may become an option in the future.

Origami female condom

Female condoms can be difficult to insert. The Origami female condom® is in clinical trials. It is oval-shaped and only expands once inserted. It is pre-lubricated with a silicone-based lubricant. The product is still in clinical studies.

So there are many new developments at various stages of research and development. It would seem certain that the future will bring choices for contraception that include fewer side effects, more effective non-hormonal methods, better protection against STIs, including a reduction in HIV transmission, and a more equal sharing of responsibility between men and women.

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The information on this page is peer reviewed by qualified clinicians.

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