Phexxi, a form of non-hormonal birth control, is super popular on TikTok, but numerous people have reported getting pregnant despite using it correctly.
A recent report from Rolling Stone explored the efficacy of this contraceptive gel, which was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2020. Phexxi works by lowering a person’s vaginal pH to make it a less hospitable environment for sperm. It is designed to be self-inserted into your vagina before having penetrative sex, and a new dose is required every time.
The gel does not contain spermicidal chemicals. It also is non-hormonal, which makes Phexxi suitable for people looking for alternatives to hormonal birth control, like the pill or hormonal IUDs.
According to Phexxi’s manufacturer, the gel is 86 percent effective with typical use and 94 percent effective with perfect use — so, 14 out of 100 people who don’t use it exactly as directed get pregnant. But anecdotal reports paint a different picture. On WedMD, the gel currently has a user rating of 3.3 out of 10, with more than 30 commenters claiming they got pregnant while using it.
Marissa, a former Phexxi user, told Rolling Stone she was shocked when she became pregnant after using the drug for just two months. She remembered thinking, “‘Maybe it was just my case’…Then I went onto websites to look at reviews and realized I was not the only person.”
Admittedly, using Phexxi for contraception is “way, way better than nothing,” Dr. Carolyn Westhoff, a professor at Columbia University, told the magazine. “Not all women are interested or able to use more effective methods.”
A representative for the manufacturer said that more than 100,000 people hold prescriptions for Phexxi. It is being marketed as a standalone birth control option, with its main ad racking up 2 million impressions on social media. (The company declined to comment to Rolling Stone on the number of complaints they’ve received from users who got pregnant.)
The controversy surrounding Phexxi underscores a much larger issue: a lack of solid birth control options without horrific side effects. Although hormonal contraception is very effective, many users experience serious issues, including headaches, severe mood swings, and bleeding between periods. There are also concerns about the long-term health effects of using hormonal birth control over time. And the standard non-hormonal options — for instance, cooper IUDs — have their own drawbacks.
Starting this year, Phexxi will be covered by Medicaid in a number of states where abortions are now illegal. According to Axios, 17 U.S. states have banned or severely restricted abortions in the wake of Roe v. Wade‘s reversal last year.
For many Americans, the stakes of unplanned pregnancy are higher than ever. A JAMA report from last November found that one-third of people who can get pregnant now have to travel more than an hour away to reach their nearest abortion provider.
“It really pisses me off that they are packaging themselves as ‘feminist’ for a product that doesn’t work at a time when [abortion] access has shrunk in certain parts of the country,” Emma, a former Phexxi user who became pregnant while using it, told Rolling Stone.
Given all this, should you use Phexxi? It really depends on your reproductive goals. If you live in an anti-abortion state, and your biggest concern is pregnancy prevention, you may opt to use a more effective form of contraception, such as a cooper IUD or condoms. According to BabyCenter, these methods are 99 and 98 percent effective in preventing pregnancy, respectively.
The drug doesn’t prevent STI transmission, either, so if you’re worried about that, you’ll have to use a barrier during sex.
When it comes to healthcare, accurate information is key. Consult with your primary care provider or gynecologist to discuss your birth control options and make an informed decision.
Before you go, check out these celebrities who shared their abortion stories.
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