“No duh” study: Free birth control doesn’t lead to “promiscuity”

In case you were concerned that the surge in no copay birth control under Obamacare is turning us into a nation of sluts because “the only thing standing between women and promiscuity is a fear of pregnancy,” a new study from the Contraceptive Choice Project should ease your worries

Women and teen girls participating in a study that provided free birth control did not take up riskier sexual practices as a result, contrary to fears among some social conservatives, a new report says.

The participants were less likely to have sex with more than one man after the program began. And though they did have sex a bit more often, they were no more likely to be diagnosed with sexually transmitted diseases, according to results published online Thursday in Obstetrics & Gynecology.

The researchers looked at number of partners and frequency of sex because those factors tend to be correlated with higher unintended pregnancy and STD rates and are thus “riskier,” though I’ll just add that, as long as it’s protected and consensual, there’s really no reason we should care how much sex people are having. And senior author Jeffrey Peipert was clear there was no increase in risk: “Increasing access to no-cost contraceptives doesn’t translate into riskier sexual behavior. It’s not the contraception that drives their sexual behavior.” So what is the effect of no-cost birth control on sexual health outcomes? As a previous study from the Contraceptive Choice Project found, it reduces abortion and unintended pregnancy rates. Again, mind blowing stuff, I know.

Frankly, I’m getting more than a little tired of writing about painfully unsurprising studies about birth control that are really only necessary to dispel right-wing myths. Yes, birth control costs money so obviously some people have trouble affording it. Of course, people use it because being able to control your reproduction is pretty key to making a good life for yourself and your family. No shit, it prevents unintended pregnancies. That is the whole point. And yet, conservatives continue to claim, against all evidence, that it has the exact opposite effect. Indeed, a representative from the Family Research Council, whose views were specifically called out in the study, says they are unconvinced and maintain that contraception puts women at greater risk.

The problem is we’re not all on the same page about the very basis of this debate. For public health researchers, whether birth control reduces unintended pregnancies or if outlawing abortion actually decreases abortion rates or if public family planning programs are a good economic investment or if abstinence-only sex ed is effective–these are empirical questions (which have basically been answered). But for the opposition, the facts are irrelevant. All the studies in the world are never going to convince the Bill O’Reillys of the world to change their views–because for them it’s more about the chance to call the Sandra Flukes of the world “sluts” than anything else.

Maya DusenberyMaya Dusenbery is an Executive Director of Feministing.

St. Paul, MN

Maya Dusenbery is executive director in charge of editorial at Feministing. She is the author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm: The Truth About How Bad Medicine and Lazy Science Leave Women Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Sick (HarperOne, March 2018). She has been a fellow at Mother Jones magazine and a columnist at Pacific Standard magazine. Her work has appeared in publications like Cosmopolitan.com, TheAtlantic.com, Bitch Magazine, as well as the anthology The Feminist Utopia Project. Before become a full-time journalist, she worked at the National Institute for Reproductive Health. A Minnesota native, she received her B.A. from Carleton College in 2008. After living in Brooklyn, Oakland, and Atlanta, she is currently based in the Twin Cities.

Maya Dusenbery is an executive director of Feministing and author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm on sexism in medicine.

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