Currently, when it comes to not getting pregnant, the burden falls almost entirely on women. And unless you’ve had a harrowingly painful IUD insertion, a lot of commonly used methods require consistent use for peak effectiveness. That’s why researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology want women to have the option to wear their contraception in a piece of jewelry.
The researchers published their findings in the Journal of Controlled Release this month. Their work illustrates how they are developing what they characterized as pharmaceutical jewelry—an earring, ring, necklace, and wristwatch equipped with a transdermal patch that delivers the contraceptive hormone levonorgestrel. This hormone is typically used to prevent pregnancy after sex in the event that birth control failed or wasn’t used correctly. It’s usually taken in pill form. This drug is also found in IUDs like the Mirena, Kyleena, and Skyla.
“We, therefore, expect that administering levonorgestrel via the skin from an earring patch should be just as effective as delivering it from an IUD or implant, as long as we maintain the correct drug concentration in the blood,” Mark Prausnitz, Regents’ professor in the School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology, one of the three researchers on the study, told Gizmodo in an email.
The researchers have yet to test the contraceptive jewelry on humans, but they did test an earring on rats. They applied them for 16 hours on and 8 hours off to mirror the duration someone might wear an earring during the day. “Our initial experiments in this study provide proof of principle that we can do it in rats,” Prausnitz said. The study noted that the hormone concentrations lowered when the patch was off but stayed “well above the human contraceptive threshold.” Prausnitz said that “more development and future studies in humans” is needed to confirm whether an earring patch is just as effective as contraceptive implants like the IUD.
Birth control patches already exist—they can be worn on the stomach, upper arm, butt, or back, according to Planned Parenthood, and need to be replaced each week for three weeks, with a one week break between cycles. If used perfectly, they are 99% effective, but Planned Parenthood notes that “in reality, the patch is about 91% effective,” given room for error.
If, and that is a big if, proven effective, the birth control jewelry is unique in its form factor. My first reaction was that it seemed like a pretty innocuous delivery method. I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with having more contraceptive options to choose from, especially ones that are non-invasive and painless. My second reaction was—I would really like to see more research around male birth control, rather than a cuter way for women to prevent pregnancy. I asked Prausnitz whether their team was exploring male birth control methods, and he said that they aren’t creating new types but rather improved ways of taking them.
“There is active research on male contraceptives, but we are not currently involved,” he said. “If and when there is a good male contraceptive, then we would be excited to develop a delivery system that is optimal for it.”
My colleagues who take or have taken birth control found the jewelry birth control cute at best and incendiary at worst. For those that fell in the middle, they also wondered why more energy wasn’t being channeled into developing new mechanisms by which men might consider taking birth control. Others were concerned over whether they would either remember to wear the earrings each day for the necessary amount of time or even want to wear earrings most days.
A colleague that hated the birth control earring pointed out that its presence might indicate to some that you are trying to prevent pregnancy which, in more conservative circles, creates unwanted conflict. And its absence might also signal to some that you’re trying to conceive. Of course, a lot of people wear earrings. It’d take a pretty widespread acceptance of this type of contraceptive method for people to start equating jewelry with fucking. But it’s certainly something to think about.