Silphium was a plant in classical antiquity commonly used for seasoning and medication, as well as a method of birth control. Though it’s highly debated what happened to this extinct plant, many academics believe it became extinct due to over-harvesting. Our ancestors could be quite promiscuous, and it seems like humanity hasn’t changed much since the time of silphium. From plastic condoms that prevent sperm from entering a woman’s body to IUDs implanted into a woman’s body to fight off sperm with copper wiring, people have been trying to make sex “consequence-free” by removing the element of procreation.
Now on the horizon is a high-tech invention set to be unleashed in 2018 by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. MicroCHIPS Inc., a group funded by the foundation, is creating a controlled-release microchip that prevents women from getting pregnant by releasing 30 micrograms of a hormone that has been used in contraceptives for two decades. This new method of birth control, which is set to begin preclinical testing next year, can be implanted in the buttocks, upper arm, or abdomen. If it passes safety and efficacy tests, the device would be more convenient for many sexually active women because, unlike existing contraceptive implants, it can be deactivated without a trip to the clinic and an outpatient procedure, and it would last 16 years, nearly half a woman’s reproductive life.
In a 2012 TED talk, Melinda Gates stated that she wanted to make her foundation’s agenda clear: this wasn’t about abortion or population control. Her agenda, as she put it, was to empower men and women to decide for themselves when they want to have a child. She added that controversial topics like abortion and population control have deterred people from embarking on a path of the Global Health Agenda, that is, accessible birth control for all. She talked about how France has been having smaller families for the last 150 years due to birth control. What she didn’t mention, however, is France desperately looking for solutions to its slow population growth which the government believes is negatively impacting its economy and culture.
Melinda Gates did talk about the dangers of living in a country that is driven on controlling its population, similar to several decades when the United States sterilized African-American women without their consent, an act dubbed the Mississippi appendectomy. But she stressed that giving people, not government, the power to choose when to have children while remaining sexually active is key to strengthening communities.
“There’ll be less unwanted pregnancies,” Gates pronounced. At the end of the talk she was confronted with the question, “Do you think sex is sacred,” and she answered “yes” but insisted that, even though this may increase the likelihood for people to have more promiscuous sex outside of marriage, birth control doesn’t take “the scariness out of sex.”
“The Gates Foundation is always looking for new ways to foster and accelerate innovative ideas that can improve, and even save, people’s lives,” Chris Wilson, the foundation’s director of global health discovery, wrote in a news release on the organization’s June announcement that it is funding research into a new generation of condoms. “We are continually impressed by the talented people … with exciting ideas that can help address issues of great importance to women and children.”