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Study: For Women, Free Birth Control Doesn't Lead To Risky Sex

Via Wikimedia Commons/Victor byckttor

New research out of Washington University has found that giving women free birth control does not increase risky sexual behavior.

The analysis included 7,751 St. Louis-area women between the ages of 14 and 45.

It was part of an even larger effort called the Contraceptive CHOICE Project, whose goal is to promote the use of long-term contraceptive methods like intrauterine devices (IUDs) or implants.

For this part of the study, researchers touched base with the women at six months and 12 months with telephone interviews. Each time, they asked the women how many different men they’d slept with in the past month, and how many times they’d had sex.

Having multiple sexual partners ― or just more sex ― increases the risk of unintended pregnancy. It can also make it more likely for women to get sexually transmitted infections like HIV, chlamydia, or gonorrhea.

Gina Secura directs the Contraceptive CHOICE Project at Washington University.

She says about 5 percent of women reported having multiple sexual partners when they first enrolled in the program. That dropped to about 3 percent after 12 months.

“Not a huge reduction, but a reduction,” Secura said. “So, the fear that women will have more partners if they have access to contraception was not true in our study.”

Secura said the women did have sex somewhat more frequently after getting free birth control. At the one-year check-in, they reported having sex a median of six times a month, up from four at the start of the study.

"And so we took the next step," Secura said. "And looked to see, well, women who reported more [frequent sexual encounters], versus women who reported the same or less. Were they more likely to experience a sexually transmitted infection? And in fact, no."

Previously published results from the Contraceptive CHOICE Project have shown that providing women with free birth control ― particularly more effective but costly methods like IUDs and implants ― leads to fewer unplanned pregnancies and abortions.

The project was funded by the Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation. The current analysis is published in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology.

Follow Véronique LaCapra on Twitter: @KWMUScience