More than 90 percent of women who begin using a long-term form of birth control — such as a contraceptive implant or an intrauterine device (IUD) — continue with that method for at least six months, according to a new study. The researchers hope that data will help dispel some of the lingering misconceptions about those types of contraception, and ultimately encourage more doctors to prescribe them.
“There is the perception among healthcare providers that women discontinue these methods rapidly,” the senior author of the study, the Washington University School of Medicine’s Dr. Tessa Madden, explained to Reuters. “We hope that this study helps reassure providers that the discontinuation rate is not a big concern.”
Encouragingly, the fact that the vast majority of women continued to use their long-acting contraceptive means that they didn’t have any negative side effects. For instance, they weren’t forced to stop using their IUD because of heavy cramping or bleeding — something that many women still worry about. Indeed, ever since faulty IUDs in the 1970s led to some serious health consequences, there’s been a lot of skepticism surrounding them. But today, the IUD is the most effective form of birth control available, and multiple studies have confirmed it’s perfectly safe.
Nonetheless, the vast majority of U.S. women aren’t opting for that contraceptive method. That may partly be because their doctors still aren’t suggesting it.
The study’s authors pointed out that medical professionals are particularly reluctant to prescribe implants or IUDs to young women, assuming that negative side effects will convince them to give up — but they shouldn’t feel that way. Researchers found that young women weren’t any more likely to discontinue their long-lasting birth control than older women. Previous studies have also found that IUDs are just as appropriate for teenagers as they are for adult women, and the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology now encourages doctors to give IUDs to their teenage patients.
Young women who are at most at risk for unintended pregnancy stand to benefit the most from long-lasting contraception, since it eliminates the need to take a daily pill or refill a prescription — which can be significant barriers for them. Nonetheless, there’s been somewhat of a large-scale societal resistance to giving them these resources. Parents say they’re not comfortable with the idea of their teenage daughters having an IUD, and many medical professionals think of long-lasting birth control as something that’s mostly appropriate for married women.
Those attitudes ultimately stem from a discomfort with female sexuality. To many Americans, giving women the resources to prevent pregnancy may seem like giving them a license to be promiscuous — it’s the same reason that there’s been similar misguided resistance to the HPV vaccine and Obamacare’s birth control benefit. The idea that an IUD could empower a young, unmarried woman to have more sex seems scary.
It will take more than one study to transform society’s approach to this aspect of reproductive health care. But Madden and her fellow researchers hope their research like theirs will help influence doctors, who are on the front lines of this work. Birth control may seem basic, but many women are still misinformed about their options and reluctant to initiate that conversation with their doctors — so it’s up to the providers to start bringing up these issues.
“This is a paradigm shift in family planning,” Madden explained. “Studies like this will encourage providers to use these methods more, and to not create additional barriers for women to get the most effective methods.”