Condoms reign supreme for birth control; pill second most popular

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In the world of American birth control, the condom is still king, according to a federal report released Thursday.

An overwhelming 99 percent of 53 million sexually experienced women of reproductive age said they have used at least one kind of contraception in their lives, and 93 percent of women said they used condoms during intercourse.


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This widespread use of condoms is “one of the most striking changes” seen in U.S. contraceptive trends, said Kimberly Daniels and her colleagues at the National Center for Health Statistics, an agency in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In 1982, for instance, 52 percent of sexually experienced women said they had used condoms.

But by 1995, condom use had jumped to 82 percent — possibly because of the years of “use-a-condom” public announcements related to the battle against AIDS — and by 2010, usage reached 93 percent, said the federal researchers, citing data from various years of the National Survey of Family Growth.

The birth-control pill is the second most popular method, with 82 percent of sexually experienced women younger than 44 saying they used such a product.

Some modern methods, such as sponges, suppositories, female condoms and cervical caps, are rarely used.

About 12 million women said they used “periodic abstinence, calendar rhythm” or “natural family planning” to avoid pregnancy in 2010.

A second National Survey report, also released Thursday, found that about 11 percent of sexually experienced women, ages 15 to 44, had used “emergency contraception” to prevent pregnancy by 2010.

This was almost three times the number of women in 2002 who said they had used such a product, which is designed to help a woman avoid pregnancy after unprotected sex. Emergency contraception is available to women 17 and older without a prescription; many women’s health groups want products sold over the counter, without restrictions.

These federal reports on contraceptive use arrive amid a national debate on the issue.

Women’s rights groups, their allies in Congress and the Obama administration are determined to deliver birth-control products without co-pays to women, via the Affordable Care Act.

But dozens of employers have filed lawsuits against the federal government, saying they do not want to be forced to violate their religious convictions by paying for health-insurance coverage for their employees’ birth-control products, including “emergency contraception” products that might act as abortifacients.

The report shows that contraception use is already widespread — 88 percent of women have used a “highly effective, reversible” birth-control method, such as a pill, patch, injection or intrauterine device — and that such birth control is used by vast majorities — from 84 percent to 91 percent — of women of Catholic, fundamentalist and mainline Protestant faiths.

Millions of women also abandon birth-control methods — but most commonly because of “side effects,” not monetary or insurance reasons.

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About the Author
Cheryl Wetzstein

Cheryl Wetzstein

Cheryl Wetzstein covers family and social issues as a national reporter for The Washington Times. She has been a reporter for three decades, working in New York City and Washington, D.C. Since joining The Washington Times in 1985, she has been a features writer, environmental and consumer affairs reporter, and assistant business editor.

Beginning in 1994, Mrs. Wetzstein worked exclusively ...

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