Report refutes myth about contraception

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New research has found that women are on average no more likely to have multiple sexual partners in a single month after they are provided no-cost access to birth control methods than they were before.

And while women reported a slight increase in their monthly sexual encounters a year after getting free contraceptives, the new study says the resulting frequency of sexual activity fell within expected boundaries for women of childbearing age.

In a prospective cohort study called the Contraceptive Choice Project, 9,256 women and teenage girls in and around St. Louis were provided reversible birth control methods free for a year. The subjects, ages 14 to 45, were asked to complete a survey upon recruitment, before they were prescribed and dispensed the birth-control method of their choice, and at six and 12 months after their first visits.

Among 7,751 participants who completed the surveys, Washington University researchers observed a statistically significant decrease in sexual partners participants reported having had in the preceding 30 days. While 5.2 percent of the women reported having more than one male sexual partner in the past 30 days upon recruitment, 3.5 percent did so at month six, and 3.3 percent did so at month 12.

While 70 percent to 71 percent of participants reported no change in the number of sexual partners in the past 30 days, and 13 percent to 14 percent reported fewer, 16 percent reported they increased their partners. Among those who reported such an increase, 80 percent had reported no sexual partners initially and one in a follow-up survey.

The research, published Thursday in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology, offers a response to a 2-year-old war of words between those advocating universal contraception coverage under the Affordable Care Act and conservative critics of such a plan.

That debate erupted after the Obama administration required virtually all employer-provided health insurance policies to include contraceptive coverage, even in cases where an employer had religious objections to contraceptives. The proposal inflamed conservatives, many arguing that the policy would promote increased sexual activity, more pregnancies, abortions and sexually transmitted diseases.

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