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Free Birth Control Not Linked to Increasing Risky Sexual Behaviors

Update Date: Mar 07, 2014 01:32 PM EST

Parents are often worried that if their children get their hands on objects related to sex, such as condoms and birth control, for free, their children will start to engage in risky sexual behaviors. However, some studies in the past have found that even though children are exposed to the concept of sex early on, they do not have an increased risk of having sex. In a new study, researchers from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, MO examined the effects of getting free birth control and women's likelihood of carrying out risky sexual behaviors.

"The notion that women will have sex with more partners if you give them free birth control didn't pan out in this study," said Jeffrey Peipert, MD, PhD, the study's senior author and the Robert J. Terry Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology. "Providing no-cost contraception did not result in riskier sexual behavior."

Peipert and colleagues examined data provided by the Contraceptive CHOICE Project, which recruited 9,256 women living in St. Louis. The women were considered high-risk for accidental pregnancy. The women were educated about the benefits of using long-term contraceptives such as intrauterine devices and implants over short-term ones such as birth control pills, patches and rings. The participants were allowed to pick whichever contraceptive they wanted free of charge.

At the six-months and 12-months points, the women were interviewed about their sexual behaviors since receiving the free birth control. During both times, the participants were asked about how often they had sexual intercourse and the total number of sexual partners within the past month. Roughly 85 percent, or 7,750 women completed both surveys.

The researchers reported that the number of women who had multiple partners declined throughout the study from 5.2 percent of them reporting having more than one male sex partner at the beginning of the study to 3.5 percent at six-months and then to 3.3 percent at 12-months. The majority of the women, at 70 percent, did not have more or fewer sexual partners at both time points. 13 to 14 percent stated that they slept with less people whereas 16 percent said they had more sexual partners. 80 percent of the group of women that reported having more sexual partners went from no partner to one partner.

"Having multiple partners is a known risk behavior," said Gina Secura, PhD, the study's first author and project director of the CHOICE project. "If sexual behavior were going to change after women received free contraception, you would expect to see that change soon after they got the birth control."

The researchers also found that from the beginning of the study to the six-months and 12-months points, the number of sexual intercourse increased from four episodes to six within the past 30 days of the surveys. The researchers did not find an increase in sexually transmitted infections at 12-months. The researchers concluded that not having any kind of contraceptive could be more harmful for these women.

Peipert added, reported by Medical Xpress, "It's not the contraception that drives their sexual behavior."

The women in the study were between the ages of 14 and 45. A little less than half of the women never had a child whereas 62 percent of them had a previous unintended pregnancy. 39 percent of the women had financial problems and 35 percent received public assistance. Around 32 percent of them had a high school education or less.

The study was published in Obstetrics & Gynecology.

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