Minus the City: Phexxi: Newest Innovation in Female Birth Control

Last week I talked about the dangers of altering the pH of the vagina. What if I told you that the FDA has just recently approved a new female contraceptive that works by altering the pH of the vagina? Under “Important Safety Information” on the Phexxi website, the most common side effects are as follows: “vaginal burning & itching, yeast infection, urinary tract infection, vaginal area discomfort, bacterial vaginosis, vaginal discharge, genital discomfort (including in male partners) and pain while urinating.” The question you might be wondering: how does this work? 

Phexxi is an on-demand birth control containing three ingredients: lactic acid, citric acid, and potassium bitartrate. It looks and works similar to a tampon; the plunger is inserted and then pushed, and a gel-like substance is released. It’s not a spermicide, meaning it does not kill sperm. Rather, it lowers sperm mobility by lowering the pH balance of the vagina, as sperm tends to thrive in an environment where the pH levels are higher. Phexxi claims that this type of contraceptive is 93% effective at preventing pregnancy when used the right way, but 86% effective with “typical use.” While it might be effective and it presents a step in the right direction for women’s health given the existing need for more non-hormonal birth control methods, the side effects are scary. Why should women have to risk vaginal discomfort for an hour or two of sex? 

Surprisingly, only 2% of Phexxi users have stopped using the product because of its side effects. But the long-term effects aren’t very promising. Clinical studies show cases of bladder and kidney infections, one of which was serious and required hospitalization. Of course if we focused on the negatives of every drug, we would not be using any of them. Although, like I discussed last week, anything that alters the pH of your vagina can cause extreme discomfort. And if this happens repeatedly, infections can turn chronic as the vagina can become more susceptible to infection. Less than 1% of the women involved in the clinical study experienced vaginal discomfort, which is an incredible number. But there is little data that reveals the long-term side effects. That is concerning. Not only this, but male partners in the study also experienced adverse effects like pain and itchiness. Both partners are at risk here for long term issues. This uncertainty proves that more studies need to be conducted and until then, women should tread with caution.