The rate of female contraceptive use has stayed consistent in nearly the last decade, but preferred methods of birth control have changed in a significant way since 2011, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The agency reports that 61.7 percent of women ages 15-44 were using contraception between 2011 and 2013, which is pretty similar to the 62.2 percent usage rate the CDC reported between 2006 and 2010.
But the biggest change was in how many women are using contraceptives that are long-acting but also reversible, a category that includes intrauterine devices and hormonal implants.The rate of use almost doubled from 3.8 percent in 2006-10 to 7.2 percent in 2011-13 as the methods have gained broader endorsement from the medical community. Use of these methods still trails the most popular forms of birth control, like the pill and condoms, but those methods all saw slight declines since 2010.
About 11.1 percent of women ages 25-34 used what's known as long-acting reversible contraceptive (or LARC) methods, which was more than double the rate for other age groups. These methods are among the most effective forms of birth control, with failure rates under 1 percent. By comparison, the pill has a 9 percent failure rate and condoms have a 18 percent failure rate under typical use, according to the CDC.
Between 2011 and 2013, 5 percent of women ages 15-24 used these methods. In September 2012, new guidelines from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists said hormonal implants and IUDs should be recommended as "first-line contraceptive options" for sexually active teenage girls. So, it will be important to watch how this rate changes in future reports.
The usage of LARC methods in America still trails far behind many European countries, according to a previous study from the Guttmacher Institute, a research and advocacy group supporting reproductive rights. The IUD fell out of favor in the U.S. in the 1970s after the most popular model was linked to pelvic infections, infertility and 17 deaths, prompting hundreds of lawsuits. IUD usage rates dropped from about 10 percent to about 2 percent and hadn’t recovered until recently.
The IUD and other long-acting reversible methods have been gaining favor again as doctors recognize them as one of the safest and most effective forms of birth control. Education about the method and cost may be further barriers in the United States, though health plans are now required to cover all FDA-approved birth control methods at no cost (unless your plan has a religious exemption).
A New England Journal of Medicine study earlier this year found that teenage girls were 16 times more likely to choose long-acting birth control methods provided at no cost after they were educated about their different options. That's a sure sign of how far the IUD has come.