March 10, 2014 — Women do not become increasingly likely to engage in risky sexual practices, such as a having multiple partners, after obtaining access to no-cost contraceptives, according to a study published in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology, the Los Angeles Times' "Science Now" reports.
The study examined data from the Contraceptive Choice Project, a cohort study in which 9,256 women and teenage girls in the St. Louis, Mo., area were provided with reversible contraceptive methods at no cost for one year. Participants were surveyed before choosing a method, then again at six months and 12 months after starting the method.
The new study primarily aimed to measure two factors -- multiple sexual partners and frequency of sexual intercourse -- that are closely associated with unintended pregnancies and contracting sexually transmitted infections (Healy, "Science Now," Los Angeles Times, 3/6). All of the participants were either sexually active or planning to become sexually active at the start of the study.
The new analysis includes data on 7,751 participants who completed follow-up surveys.
Researchers found that after twelve months of using a no-cost contraceptive method, 3.3% of participants reported having more than one sexual partner during the previous month, compared with 5.2% at the start of the study (Painter, USA Today, 3/7).
In total, 70% to 71% of women reported no change in their number of sexual partners in the past month, while 16% reported an increase and 13% to 14% reported a decrease.
In addition, the researchers found no reported increase in STIs among the participants, which is "reliable supporting evidence that sexually risky behavior" did not increase, according to "Science Now" ("Science Now," Los Angeles Times, 3/6).
"It's not as if getting birth control opened the flood gates" on sexual activity, said Gina Secura, a researcher at the Washington University of St. Louis and director of the Contraceptive Choice Project.
The study noted that social conservatives have claimed that access to no-cost contraceptives -- including under the Affordable Care Act's (PL 111-148) contraceptive coverage benefit -- would encourage promiscuity.
Secura said that although the study did not compare no-cost contraceptive recipients with a control group to see if there were differences in behavior, the findings should dispel "the idea that the only thing standing between women and promiscuity is a fear of pregnancy" (USA Today, 3/7).