A New Non-Hormonal Contraceptive Gel Taps Into "Wellness Culture" Anxiety Over Hormonal Birth Control

The product, Phexxi, has a similar typical-use effectiveness rate as other contraceptive methods.

HealthIn Depth
A New Non-Hormonal Contraceptive Gel Taps Into "Wellness Culture" Anxiety Over Hormonal Birth Control
Photo:Rich Pedroncelli (AP)

A new birth control product called Phexxi is a non-hormonal contraceptive gel that hopes to appeal to the growing contingent of cis women looking for contraceptive options that don’t involve hormones. The ideal audience for Phexxi is “the women who are using condoms, relying on the pullout method and hoping for the best, or the women using a natural family-planning method,” said Erin Turner, a brand manager at Evofem—the company that produces Phexxi.

Although the New York Times description of the Evofem offices sounds like a girlboss version of hell (a hot pink Joan of Arc and a cup with the phrase “Tears of My Enemies” are involved), Phexxi as a product certainly seems to have its benefits. The product works by altering the pH of the vagina to make it more acidic and therefore inhospitable to sperm. With typical use, Phexxi is about 86% effective, which is in the same range as other contraceptive options—condoms have an 87% typical-use effectiveness rate, while diaphragms have a rate of 83%, and the pill is effective 93% of the time.

Since Phexxi went on sale last September, Evofem has reportedly issued approximately 17,280 prescriptions. For context, it’s estimated that 8.6 million cis women in the U.S. have undergone a female sterilization procedure, and another 6.6 million cis women are on birth control pills—meaning Evofem has a long way to go before it can even be considered a commonly used method of birth control. Evofem is also currently doing testing on the Phexxi formulation as a prevention method for the STIs chlamydia and gonorrhea, a status which requires FDA approval, but could potentially increase the product’s audience.

The language used by Evofem CEO Saundra Pelletier and other Evofem employees suggests that part of the reasoning behind the creation of Phexxi is the recent popularity of a “wellness” related aversion to hormonal methods of control. (Another valuable use of Phexxi is as a contraceptive option for people who are told not to use hormonal birth control, such as people with breast cancer.)

Despite the general lack of scientific evidence supporting the belief that most cis women experience serious adverse side effects to hormonal birth control methods, there is an increasingly visible trend of cis women vaguely claiming to feel “more alive” and “more clear” when they stop taking birth control pills. However, that movement cannot be severed from the broader capitalistic goals of the wellness movement, which ultimately use the idea of “natural” solutions to real or contrived health concerns to sell people products and services to help them “live clean,” while remaining vague on what exactly is currently making us “unwell”.

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