Contrary to what some people think, access to free birth control does not lead to risky sex, according to a new study in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology.
This new data comes from the Contraceptive CHOICE Project, an ongoing research project involving more than 9,000 women ages 14 to 45; it provides participants with any form of reversible contraception at no cost. In 2012, the research project found that having access to free birth controlÃ¢â‚¬”especially long-term options like the IUD or implantÃ¢â‚¬”resulted in a decrease in abortions and teen pregnancies. This time around, researchers set out to debunk the myth that access to free birth control actually leads to more sex, more sexual partners, and more STDs.
In the recent analysis, researchers looked at 7,751 women who completed a six-month and 12-month follow-up survey after starting their free birth control method. During the telephone surveys, they asked the women several questions, including how many sexual partners they had in the last month; how often they had sex with their steady partner in the last month; and (if they reported multiple partners) how often they had sex with other partners in the last month. They used these answers to determine how their sex lives had changed in the time since they started their no-cost contraception.
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The results were encouraging: There was a significant decrease over time in the percent of women who reported multiple partners in the last 30 days. For most women, their number of partners remained the same throughout the study, while 13-14 percent of women reported a decrease in partners and 16 percent reported an increase in partners (though for almost all of those women, it was an increase from zero partners to one partner). While they did see an increase in sexual frequency (from about four times in the last month to about six times in the last month), this wasn't associated with a greater likelihood of contracting chlamydia or gonorrhea.
Here's another interesting stat: Of the women who reported never having sex at the beginning of the study, 52 percent still hadn't had sex at the six-month follow-up, and 46 percent still hadn't had sex at the 12-month follow-up. So according to these findings, free birth control isn't exactly a gateway drug to lots of reckless sex.
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That said, there are a few limitations of this study. The women who did not complete their follow-up surveys (and therefore were not included in this data) were more likely to be black, to report less education, to have a greater number of unplanned pregnancies, to have fewer lifetime sexual partners, and to test positive for an STD at baseline. The researchers note that this group may be at a higher risk for STDs and unplanned pregnancy, which may have affected the overall findings. Another limitation is that the study relied on self-reports from telephone interviews, so there's a chance that some of the women weren't totally honest. Still, the overwhelming data from more than 7,000 women sends a powerful message: Free birth control probably isn't leading people to make destructive decisions.
For more information on all things contraception, check out our birth control center.
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