Friday, June 04, 2004

OTC Birth Control And The Internet

Yesterday's post about the Internet's role in facilitating Pill approval in Japan got me thinking about the availability of over-the-counter (OTC) birth control methods online. This availability poses an interesting problem for American women and their Ob/Gyns.

Most of the birth control methods which can be had OTC in Europe and online aren't yet available in the U.S. So, what is a savvy Internet shopper to do?

Obviously, if you're considering using any of these methods, first you should familiarize yourself with them. Second, you should consult with your Ob/Gyn.

To get you started, here is a brief (and I do mean brief) guide to some of the most common OTC methods available for sale on-line:

Unisex Condom

The Unisex condom is a modified condom which has a hoop at the base. It's made of a very thin, hypo-allergenic plastic, and it is designed to be used with a lubricant.


-- may be used by either women or men

-- it's thinner than most latex condoms, so sensation is improved

-- possible STIs protection of the external genital area (Because this condom covers part of the external genital area, it might be able to protect against STIs that are usually transmitted via direct, intimate, skin-to-skin contact (genital herpes, warts, etc).)


-- more research is needed on its efficacy


FemCap is a modified cervical cap shaped like a tiny sailor's hat (a soft dome, surrounded by a brim, with a strap to aid in removal). It's made of silicone, it's reusable, and can be worn for up to 2 days.

FemCap is available in three sizes and requires an initial fitting by medical personnel. It's used in combination with a spermicide. FemCap is available OTC in Europe and on-line, and is FDA-approved, as a prescription-only device, in the U.S.


-- it's designed to last for at least 3 years


-- it appears to have a higher failure rate vs. the diaphragm and conventional caps

Ovès Cap

The Ovès cap is a modified cervical cap equipped with a removal loop. It's made of a very thin silicone elastomer, it's disposable, and may be left in place for up to 3 days.

The Ovès cap comes in three sizes--Mini, Midi, and Maxi (an initial fitting by medical personnel is required). It's best to use Ovès in combination with a spermicide; however, you might be able to use it without one. It's available OTC in Europe, and on-line.


-- it's held in place by surface tension (like 'cling film'), rather then suction (Because of this, the shape and size of the cervix is less important, so a larger number of women are able to use it.)


-- higher failure rates vs. hormonal methods and IUDs

Lea's Shield

Lea's Shield (Lea contraceptive)is a cross between the diaphragm and the cervical cap. It has a pliable, tea cup-shaped body with a loop for removal, and a one-way valve to allow for the passage of cervical secretions. It's made of silicone, it's reusable, and it can be left in place for up to 2 days.

Lea's Shield comes in only one size (fitting by medical personnel is not required) and may be used with or without a spermicide. It's available OTC in Europe, on-line, and it's FDA-approved, as a prescription-only device, in the U.S.


-- one size fits most women (Precise positioning over the cervix is not necessary. Also, weight fluctuations have less of an effect on its fit.)

-- can be used during menses (It shouldn't be left in place for more than 24 hours (12 for heavy flow days). Note that some physicians recommend against use during menses because of a possible increased risk of TSS.)


-- higher failure rates vs. hormonal methods and IUDs

-- needs to be replaced about every 6 months

The Contraceptive Sponge

The Sponge is a small round or cylindrical device, made of soft polyurethane foam. It's disposable, comes pre-treated (impregnated) with spermicide and all brands are designed to be effective for many hours (regardless of the number of acts of sexual intercourse during this period). The Sponge can be inserted hours in advance (helps with spontaneity), but must be left in place for a few hours after last intercourse.

Currently, there are 3 types of sponges, each with its advantages and disadvantages. All are available on-line, and some are available OTC in stores in Canada and the EU.

Pharmatex sponge

Protectaid sponge

Today sponge

Emergency Contraception

In Europe, the UK, and online Plan B is available OTC. The brand names you'll most commonly encounter are NorLevo and Levonelle.

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