Sexually transmitted diseases are exploding, with the rates of chlamydia, gonorrhea, herpes and even syphilis rising higher than they ever have in modern history. And yet when it comes to protecting ourselves from them, our options are pretty limited: condoms.
One of the hardest parts of using condoms for protection against sexually transmitted diseases is that it relies mostly on the man to use them properly. You can bring your own and you can even help him put it on but ultimately it's all on him — literally. And if he fails to use it properly or if the condom breaks or slips off then you're the one who could really suffer. But now there's a new device that's giving women more control over their own sexual health.
A vaginal ring that contains a sustained-release drug showed promising results in protecting against HIV in a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine. It works similarly to the birth control Nuvaring, but instead of releasing birth control hormones it releases anti-viral or anti-bacterial medicines. All the woman does is insert a flexible, plastic ring into her vagina. As long as it is worn consistently it appears to provide protection and side effects were minimal.
While the study only looked at HIV transmission rates, it doesn't seem like a far leap to think that rings could be imbued with additional drugs to protect against other types of STDs. It would be particularly useful for those that have no cure, like HIV and genital warts, or for the "silent" illnesses that often go undetected for years and cause irreparable harm to a woman's fertility, like chlamydia.
"Women need a discreet, long-acting form of HIV prevention that they control and want to use," said Anthony S. Fauci, M.D., an author of the study and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID).
And that, ultimately, is the point: Giving women back the control over their own bodies and sexual health. This device would allow us to take STD prevention into our own hands and would undoubtedly give many women more peace of mind and confidence.
Now we just need the device to become a reality! For now, human trials are continuing while the National Institutes of Health plans their next move.
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