Finding the right types of birth control can feel like a constant struggle – and one that usually is the responsibility of the partner with a vulva.
Even non-hormonal options like the copper IUD can come with downsides. Some people experience heavier periods or intense cramps, and others just don’t like having something inside of them all the time.
Natural family planning methods like the fertility awareness methods aren’t perfect either. These methods take a lot of planning and forethought. To be most effective, you have to consistently track your menstrual cycle and know when you’re ovulating.
Well, now there’s a new kid in town. Drum roll, please…
Birth control jelly!
What is Birth Control Jelly?
Phexxi was approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration in May 2020. This hormone-free vaginal gel gives you control over you sexual encounters. It is made by Evofem Biosciences, a pharmaceutical company in San Diego, California.
A vagina’s normal pH level ranges from 3.5 to 4.5. Your vagina’s pH levels rise when sperm enters it. This allows sperm to be mobile and swim upwards to carry on its merry way up the reproductive tract.
Phexxi keeps the vaginal pH in its normal range, lowering sperm mobility, and decreasing the chance of implantation. It does this with its three main active ingredients lactic acid, citric acid, and potassium bitartrate.
Before you ask, no Phexxi is not a spermicide.
How Do You Use Phexxi?
Phexxi comes in a four-inch tampon-like applicator that you use to inject the jelly into your vagina right before, or up to one hour before sexual intercourse.
After you insert the jelly it’s effective immediately. Easy peasy!
If you have been recently given birth, had an abortion, or a miscarriage, it’s perfectly safe to use Phexxi as soon as your provider gives you the OK to resume sexual activity.
You can use Phexxi at any point during your menstrual cycle.
Phexxi can be used with other contraceptive methods like condoms and diaphragms for greater efficacy and STI protection.
After you have sex, the birth control jelly will gradually leave your body in a mixture of vaginal fluid and semen.
How Effective is Phexxi?
When used as directed, Phexxi is ninety-three percent effective at preventing pregnancy. For people who may not have followed the instructions correctly, aka “typical use”, it’s eighty-six percent effective.
When used effectively, condoms are about ninety-eight percent effective. Other birth control options are right around there.
This leaves Phexxi quite a bit less effective than other types of birth control, but it comes with other benefits that these methods don’t, like being hormone-free and not having something between you and your partner, like with a condom.
If you are going to use Phexxi, be sure to follow the directions step by step to increase its efficacy.
Do You Need a Prescription For It?
Yes, you do need a prescription. If you’re in the U.S., you can discuss with your healthcare provider to see if it’s the right choice for you.
Are There Any Side Effects?
About two percent of women that trialed Phexxi stopped using it due to side effects.
What are the most common side effects of Phexxi?
- Vaginal yeast infection
- Vaginal itching
- Vaginal burning
- Urinary tract infection
- Bacterial vaginosis
- Vaginal discharge
- Vaginal area discomfort
- Genital discomfort
- Pain while urinating
- Vaginal pain
In some cases, male partners also reported uncomfortable side effects like itching, burning, and pain.
Someone can have an allergic reaction to Phexxi, so watch out for signs like shortness of breath, low blood pressure, skin irritation, and flushing.
Does it Protect You Against STIs
This birth control jelly does not protect against sexually transmitted infections.
Whether or not you use a barrier method like a condom with Phexxi, we always recommend that you get tested for STIs before having sex with a new partner.
Is Phexxi Right For Me?
Choosing the right birth control option for you is a highly personal decision. Ultimately you know your body and your sex life best, and only you can decide what the best route is in terms of contraception.
Phexxi isn’t recommended for people who have a history of urinary tract infections or urinary tract issues. Avoid Phexxi if you have a vaginal ring, or you or your partner are allergic to any of the ingredients in the jelly. Again, this birth control jelly is less effective than other common forms of birth control.
This birth control jelly is useful as a long or short-term option, is easily reversible, contains no hormones, and allows closer contact with you and your sexual partner. Phexxi does not affect future fertility and needs no bounce-back time between trying to get pregnant as you may need with hormonal birth control.
In the words of the great Destiny’s Child…” I don’t think you’re ready for this jelly!”.
Natasha (she/they) is a full spectrum doula, reproductive health content creator, and sexual wellness consultant. Her work focuses on deconstructing the shame, stigma, and barriers people carry around birth, sex, and beyond, to help people navigate through their lives with more pleasure, softness, and sensuality. You can connect with Natasha on IG @spectrumoflovedoula.