Journal Article

Contraception technology: Past, present and future

Steady progress in contraception research has been achieved over the past 50 years. Hormonal and nonhormonal modern contraceptives have improved women’s lives by reducing different health conditions that contributed to considerable morbidity. However, the contraceptives available today are not suitable to all users, and the need to expand contraceptive choices still exists. Novel products such as new implants, contraceptive vaginal rings, transdermal patches and newer combinations of oral contraceptives have recently been introduced in family planning programs, and hormonal contraception is widely used for spacing and limiting births. Concerns over the adverse effects of hormonal contraceptives have led to research and development of new combinations with improved metabolic profile. Recent developments include use of natural compounds such as estradiol and estradiol valerate with the hope to decrease thrombotic risk, in combination with newer progestins derived from the progesterone structure or from spirolactone, in order to avoid the androgenic effects. Progesterone antagonists and progesterone receptor modulators are highly effective in blocking ovulation and preventing follicular rupture and are undergoing investigations in the form of oral pills and in semi-long-acting delivery systems. Future developments also include the combination of a contraceptive with an antiretroviral agent for dual contraception and protection against sexually transmitted diseases, to be used before intercourse or on demand, as well as for continuous use in dual-protection rings. Although clinical trials of male contraception have reflected promising results, limited involvement of industry in that area of research has decreased the likelihood of having a male method available in the current decade. Development of nonhormonal methods is still at an early stage of research, with the identification of specific targets within the reproductive system in ovaries and testes, as well as interactions between spermatozoa and ova. It is hoped that the introduction of new methods with additional health benefits would help women and couples with unmet needs to obtain access to a wider range of contraceptives with improved acceptability.