The next sexual revolution is hormone-free

When the oral contraceptive pill was introduced in the 1960s, it liberated not only womens’ sexual rights but empowered them to focus on studies, obtain a career and plan for their lives without the probability of getting pregnant. “The pill” equally allowed women of the world to enjoy worry-free sex and gave them the power to take control of and rule over their own bodies.

Now more than 60 years later, female contraceptives come in manyfold, but almost none without life-altering side effects. Although some experience none, the use of hormonal contraceptives has been linked to depression, physical pains and blood clots to name a few, steering more and more women away from them. While we can’t underestimate the power and impact of the pill at its release, should it still be our primary pregnancy protection?

“We think that the time has come to make something new, where we also take the desires, the needs into consideration, so that it's not only about not becoming pregnant but also about what you put in your body,” as Marie Lyhne, Design Manager at Cirqle Biomedical says. Because now, 60 years after the pill, there’s something on the horizon. The Index Award 2021 Winner in the Body category is a small, hormone-free gel capsule that doesn’t compromise pleasure and safety: OUI by Cirqle Biomedical.



Named after the French word for ‘yes’, OUI is a beautiful, discrete lifestyle product the size of a big jelly bean. It’s a gel capsule that's inserted into the vagina and works after one minute and up to five hours. That keeps the spontaneity of sexual pleasure intact, but the real innovation of OUI lies in its genius use of the body’s natural pregnancy barrier: Mucus.

At its natural state during menstrual cycles, the cervical mucus in a vagina is impenetrable. During ovulation, the mucus barrier in the vagina becomes more watery, which is when the sperm cells can penetrate and fertilise the egg. What OUI’s doing is just reinforcing this impenetrable state through a gel, which is made primarily from water and biopolymers derived from seashells and mushrooms.

The hormones in on-the-market oral contraceptives take hold and can affect both physical and mental health. “Even after you stop, you don't really know how long it’s going to be in your body. And it's the same with the physical object of implants,” says Lyhne. OUI on the other hand washes out with natural fluids, leaving no trace in the body for months or years to come.

Women’s health and femtech have been a booming trend over the past years, even though it’s still a controversial topic in different corners of the world. But the uptick has luckily resulted in more open conversations between women and also between women and the men around them. 

For me, it was just showing this huge paradigm shift that all of a sudden it's two guys founding a company working with contraceptives for women.”

It was through one of those conversations that OUI came to life when future Co-Founder and CEO Frederik Petursson Madsen learned about why his girlfriend wanted to go off the pill. Looking to reinvent contraceptives, he went to Sweden to do research on the topic. There Madsen met other future Co-Founder Thomas Crouzier, and when the latter presented his work on mucus engineering, they knew this was an idea worth pursuing. In 2018, they founded Cirqle Biomedical.

“For me, it was just showing this huge paradigm shift that all of a sudden it's two guys founding a company working with contraceptives for women,” Damgaard says. “I thought it was awesome that there was this need now and that the men were also starting to question what is it with hormonal birth control pills and other implants?”

Designing and developing OUI has been human-centred from the very beginning. Lyhne and her colleagues spoke to more than 2,000 women around the world about their needs for birth control, such as having a discrete option, applying the contraceptive with just a finger and having the solution work as fast as possible. 

With all these different insights, they had to make a product that both appealed to the “outgoing, no-afraid-of-myself kind-of-person and then also the more shy, private person,” as Marie puts it. “We want it to really blend in with the everyday routine, so it can blend in with your lipstick or your mascara. And then it's up to users if they want to have it displayed or if they want to keep it discreet.”

In the past year, Cirqle Biomedical and OUI have ventured into animal trials, which have proven a 100% efficiency rate, which is superior to other contraceptives on the market. Now planning for human trials, they’re hoping to bring OUI to market within the next four to five years and at an affordable price. Because making a beautiful lifestyle product shouldn’t mean that it’s an exclusive or inaccessible product for the millions of women around the world using birth control. In fact, about 1.1 billion women are in need of family planning.

“Our vision and goal are that it should be for everyone and therefore affordable because we want to impact millions of users,” Marie says, adding that the company wants to see this product in developing countries as well. “Because then all of a sudden, we can really empower women to not get pregnant.”