More Effective Birth Control Methods Are Steadily Gaining Ground

Despite the fact that long-acting forms of contraception — such as the intrauterine device (IUD), the patch, and the ring — are more effective methods of birth control than the pill, the vast majority of women in the U.S. are not using them. However, federal data released today shows that those long-acting contraceptive methods are gaining ground among women in the country, while condom use as the sole form of birth control is on the decline.

The National Center for Health Statistics surveyed a nationally representative sample of more than 12,000 women between the ages of 15 and 44 about their birth control methods between 2006 and 2010, and compared those findings to a similar sample of over 10,000 women in 1995. While women’s use of sterilization and the daily birth control pill remained constant — each around 27 percent for both decades — the use of longer-acting hormonal methods like the patch and the ring increased 75 percent, and IUD use jumped by an impressive 600 percent.

The number of women who choose longer-acting birth control methods over the pill are still relatively small. Seven percent of respondents between 2006–10 reported using the patch or the pill, up from 4 percent in 1995, and IUD users rose from just 0.8 percent to 5.6 percent in the same time period. Still, as USA Today reports, the increases are encouraging:

“There is some shift toward more effective contraception. The shift is also toward methods that require less user intervention,” says Lawrence Finer, director of domestic research at the New York City non-profit Guttmacher Institute, which studies sexual and reproductive health.

Finer is lead author of research published this month in the journal Fertility and Sterility, which focused on long-acting contraception. The study found the proportion of women using such methods “increased significantly” since 2002 and occurred among women in almost every age, race, education and income group.

The study’s author notes that some women still see insurance coverage and cost as barriers to more effective forms of contraception, since co-pays for contraceptives like IUDs have traditionally not been covered under most insurance plans and can cost up to a thousand dollars out of pocket. Fortunately, the health care reform law will help ease some of this burden, since Obamacare’s birth control provision will require employer-based insurance plans to cover all types of birth control without a co-pay.


The new findings build on earlier research from the Guttmacher Institute, which has also found that IUD use is increasing among U.S. women. According to Guttmacher, removing the cost barriers to birth control helps to significantly increase the number of women who choose to use the most effective methods.