February 7, 2020

The 2010s are now coming to a close, even though it feels like just yesterday we were rocking shutter shades and silly bands. The new year is a time of reflection for many, and a new decade even more so. Looking back to the beginning of the decade, the 2010s brought us a myriad of new prospects for improving sexual safety.

Compiled below are three of the decade’s biggest advancements in sexual health:

Plan B: Since its approval in 1999, the emergency contraceptive drug, levonorgestrel — otherwise known as Plan B — has been the subject of controversy. The public was skeptical and opinionated about how the drug should be distributed. It was made available as an over-the-counter pill, but only to those over the age of 18. There were multiple protests and lawsuits from groups such as the Center for Reproductive Rights, who claimed the restrictions on Plan B didn’t match those of other drugs. In 2011, Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, the manufacturer of Plan B, filed an application to make the drug available to all ages, but it wasn’t until 2013 that age and prescription regulations were fully lifted, which proved extremely beneficial to groups who wouldn’t otherwise have access, such as those without insurance and minors. Today, Plan B is available over-the-counter for all ages.

PreP: It is estimated that in 2010 alone, 2.7 million people contracted Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), the viral Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI) that, left untreated, can develop into AIDS. The staggering number of newly-contracted cases has been a strong incentive for a preventative drug. Pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PreP, was introduced in 2012, and to this day is the only preemptive STI pill. PreP has lessened the fear of HIV contraction for those at risk, and has helped to de-stigmatize HIV positive sexual partners, although there is still a long way to go. Ben Tinker of CNN went as far as to say, “Some doctors and politicians have hailed the anti-retroviral drug, known as PreP, as a key to ending the AIDS epidemic.”

HIV Prevention Ring: Another lesser-known HIV combatting invention is the dapivirine ring, which functions similarly to the birth control ring. Both release drugs from a plastic ring and are inserted into the vaginal canal, switched out every four weeks.

This ring was introduced in 2012, during a study across East and Southern Africa, and gave promising results. The study found that, if used correctly, the continual release of the drug dapivirine reduces HIV infection by 27 percent, according to the International Partnership for Microbicides. This was incredibly promising and necessary, seeing as in Africa, 80 percent of new HIV infections are among women, a number that would undeniably continue to grow if not for such medical advancements.

Going back 10 years in the grand scheme of sexual health, not to mention medicine, may not seem like much. However, the larger changes of 50 or even 100 years ago were achieved slowly, through the accumulation of small changes. Seeing what was achieved in the past decade can inspire and pave the way for improving worldwide sexual health in the coming years.

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