May 27, 2010 — U.S. women and their partners are increasingly using contraception when they have premarital sex for the first time, although about half of all pregnancies in the U.S. remain unintended because rates of unprotected sex overall are fairly high, according to the National Survey of Family Growth released Wednesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the New York Times reports.
The survey, which is released every six to seven years, was conducted from 2006 to 2008, the Times reports (Harris, New York Times, 5/26). The last survey was conducted in 2002. The most recent findings are based on in-person interviews with 7,346 women ages 15 through 44 (Rubin, USA Today, 5/26). The report compares U.S. contraceptive use to that in eight other industrialized nations -- Australia, Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain and the United Kingdom (Stobbe, AP/MSNBC, 5/26).
The survey found that 84% of women used some form of contraception at first intercourse, compared with 55% in 1985. The main factor behind the increase was a rise in the use of male condoms, the Times reports. Seventy-two percent of women's partners used male condoms at first intercourse, compared with 34% before 1985.
The survey found that 11% of sexually active unmarried women who did not want to get pregnant did not use contraception, with more black women than Asian, Hispanic or white women reporting a lack of contraceptive use. Among women who became pregnant after unprotected sex, the most common reason reported for not using contraception was that they did not believe they could get pregnant.
The education level of parents was linked with contraception use. About 84% of women whose mother had a college education used contraception at first intercourse, compared with 53% of women whose mothers did not complete high school.
Survey co-author Bill Mosher, a statistician with the National Center for Health Statistics, said, "There are some pieces of good news in here, but what struck me was how persistent some of these patterns are. And that they're different from some other countries."
According to the Times, the "typical pattern" found among women in the study was to rely on use of male condoms at first intercourse, followed by the pill to delay childbirth and then sterilization once women decide they do not want to have more children. About 54% of sexually active teens who used contraception used the pill, compared with 11% of women older than age 40.
Pill Remains Popular; IUD, Patch Use Increases
The birth control pill remained the most widely used form of contraception in the U.S., with 10.7 million women ages 15 through 44 using the method. Pill use was closely followed by sterilization, which was used by 10.3 million women (New York Times, 5/26). According to the AP/MSNBC, about 17% women said they had undergone a sterilization procedure, compared with less than 10% for most of the other countries examined in the survey (AP/MSNBC, 5/26).
The report also found that intrauterine devices are becoming "increasingly popular" in the U.S., with use rising from 2% of women in 2002 to 6% in 2008, the Times reports. More than two million U.S. women, including nearly 4% of teenagers who used contraceptives, reported using an IUD (New York Times, 5/26). The survey found that 7.4% of women said they had used an IUD at some point, a 28% increase since 2002. Lawrence Finer, director of domestic research at the Guttmacher Institute, said, "This is probably the beginning of an upward trend in IUD use" (USA Today, 5/26).
Despite the increase, women's contraceptive choices generally have remained stable for decades, according to Mosher. "We seem to be stuck in this pattern of the pill and sterilization [as] the leading methods," he said (AP/MSNBC, 5/26).
The patch and the vaginal ring are among several new contraceptive methods that emerged in the last decade. Although many women tried the methods, fewer than 2% reported currently using either one (USA Today, 5/26). Ten percent of women said they had tried a contraceptive patch, up from 1% in 2002, the Times reports (New York Times, 5/26).