Science & Technology

When Does a Rubber Cup Require a Prescription? When It May Help Prevent Pregnancy

FDA says silicone cup inserted in the vagina to block sperm cannot be sold over-the-counter.


"Are you a fan of the retro-inspired? Is your vagina?" asks Marie Lodi at Jezebel (in a post that reads suspiciously like sponsored content). The reason she's asking is the re-emergence of a once-popular birth control method called the diaphragm—a shallow, silicone cup that's inserted up against a woman's cervix before sex to block any sperm from passing. And the reason I'm writing about diaphragms here at Reason? Because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) thinks purchasing these pieces of rubber should require a prescription.

Keep in mind the diaphragm contains no hormones or medication of any kind. It is literally just a fucking cup, albeit one designed to be inserted in the vagina to prevent pregnancy. In the old days, requiring a prescription for diaphragms made some sense, as they came in different sizes and women needed to be fitted by a doctor. But the new diaphragm, sold under the brand name Caya, is a one-size-fits-all affair.

Even the usually-regulation-happy commenters at Jezebel seemed perplexed and miffed by this situation. "It's a plastic cup. Why would anyone need a prescription for that?" wondered Wendi Muse. "So ridiculous."

"This is basically a DivaCup for sperm refraction," wrote another commenter, referring to the silicone menstrual cups sold—prescription free—as an alternative to tampons. "I don't get why I can buy a DivaCup at Whole Foods, but I can't pick up one of these babies."

"Come. The. Fuck. On," commented yet another. "Why is this by prescription only?" It's not like we haven't been shoving tampons into our hoo-has forever. I'm pretty sure we could figure this out."

But, of course, the diaphragm's prescription-only status has nothing to do with what women actually are capable of and/or need. Gynecologists, women's health centers, and Caya's manufacturers can all make more money if the device requires a prescription. Democrats don't mind it being prescription only, because then they can crow about how they've helped women get "free" diaphragms through Obamacare. And social conservatives tend to balk at any form of birth-control being made more easily accessible. Plus, the FDA will regulate anything it can get away with regulating. It may make no sense for Caya to be prescription only, but it's not surprising, unfortunately.