Phexxi is a woman’s contraception method pioneered in the 19th century, when it was unknown in the United States. And although it has survived the introduction of male birth control pills and emergency contraceptive pills, it continues to be considered a feminine choice, according to Ted G. Hahn, a men’s health doctor and the author of “The New Male Model: Learning to Use Science to Reverse the Risk of Premature Menopause.”
So what is Phexxi? Originally developed in 1858 by French physician Giovanni di Trapani and physician Samuel Sullivan in honor of the Frenchwoman Marie Leduc Lecomte, who became one of Sullivan’s patients, the method consists of abstinence from sex for 14 to 20 days between the ages of 19 and 24. By abstaining from sex for these roughly 10 to 14 days, you lose the possibility of getting pregnant. During this period, women should abstain from contact with men, neither send them presents, nor make contact with them personally.
More than 1,000 women were able to experience this treatment and become pregnant in the years before the advent of the pill. Many had an unwillingly but satisfying experience.
Phexxi was championed by patients of Sullivan who were trying to conceive during this period. Unfortunately, it was not widely available to the general public and only an estimated one in 50 women were trained to administer it.
But in 1887, Dr. David T. Gore, a Harvard Medical School graduate, became Phexxi’s first physician-in-charge and taught a course on the method. By 1906, Gore joined the medical staff of Hadassah Hospital, an organization devoted to women’s health and welfare. She would ultimately establish a doctor-in-charge for Phexxi — and the title “Phexxi birth control physician” was awarded to her.
It was Gore’s job to train women so that they could use the method successfully, and eventually Phexxi became widely accepted, with many doctors using it in clinics.
But recent studies have revealed that early use of Phexxi may have prolonged some women’s periods. One reported failure rate of 60 percent. Some experts have also raised safety concerns about the method. However, as an estimated one in five women in the world use Phexxi, many experts maintain that it is safe, and appropriate to use for nearly everyone.
While many men take pleasure in watching women’s pleasurable experience during Phexxi and think of it as a wonderful physical and sexual tool, there are still those who find the method distasteful, or are skeptical of any method that involves sexual activity.
“There are so many misconceptions,” says Gail Davison, a feminist leader and author who lived for a period of time in the Middle East during the second half of the 19th century, when Phexxi was most frequently used. “You’re supposed to get laid the day you have intercourse? It was an invented idea.”
The male birth control pill is one of the most popular methods, with options like Bayer’s Levonelle (Levonagon was discontinued in 2011). Levonelle and emergency contraceptives like Plan B employ drug versions of the hormone progestin, which can temporarily stop ovulation.