CORRECTION: The story has been updated to clarify that Phexxi is the first and only on-demand birth control with no hormones that is controlled by women. (Nov. 3, 2022)
SAN DIEGO — A new form of birth control is hitting the market for women wary of hormones.
If anyone knows how to fight for life, it’s Saundra Pelletier. She survived chemotherapy, a double mastectomy, a hysterectomy and an oophorectomy and beat breast cancer all while running her company, Evofem Biosciences.
Evofem is a biotech company dedicated to innovating women’s health. The heart of their mission is all over Pelletier’s office, from a mug that reads “My favorite position is CEO” to a curtain that reads “Here’s to strong women, may we know them, may we be them, may we raise them.”
Pelletier’s pride and joy is the creation of Phexxi. They call it the first and only on-demand birth control with no hormones that is controlled by women. IUD is a permanent insert for a while and not on-demand, and a condom is male-controlled.
It’s a contraceptive gel that women can use before having sex. The gel alters the pH of the vagina to make it more acidic and inhospitable to sperm.
The product is especially dear to Pelletier because it gives women like her, with medical conditions or concerns, another option to turn to when picking out protection.
“Let’s face it, women don’t have sex every day,” Pelletier said. “So the idea that they use something every day that they don’t need to save their life, those days are over. And women are now empowered because men have had condoms for 150 years and they protect themselves from getting someone pregnant and from sexually transmitted infections.”
Chrissy Cmorik is the senior director of education for Planned Parenthood. Part of her job is teaching comprehensive sex education around California and beyond.
“In California, young people have the right to access birth control methods,” Cmorik said. “That’s not true in other states, but even in California, not everyone knows that, so it’s important to not just educate about what’s out there, but what rights people have in accessing services.”
Since the overturning of Roe v. Wade, Cmorik said their Planned Parenthood in San Diego has seen an increase in people coming from out of state looking for help. She believes new forms of birth control like Phexxi are an important part in making sure women have access to reliable contraceptive, no matter where they live.
“We need to make sure that we’re keeping up with the times and that we’re not just sitting back and saying ‘well this is what we have, and it’s fine.’ So it’s very important that we continue to update,” she said.
For Pelletier, fighting for women goes beyond the lab. She started a nonprofit focused on reproductive health around the world and has fought for women’s access to birth control on Capitol Hill in Washington.
“My hope for the future is that young women, when they are leaving their parents’ house and going out into the future, they think ‘you know what, the right thing for me is to be empowered. I deserve sex on demand, just like men have had.’ And my hope is that we get more products,” Pelletier said. “Phexxi is our way to contribute to women’s empowerment.”
Phexxi gets its name from the first two letters (which represent pH) and the double X is for the sex chromosome. Phexxi is also currently involved in a study that could prove it prevents chlamydia and gonorrhea.