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Survey: Few women fully aware of LARC methods, benefits

September 16, 2016 — Many women are unaware of long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARC), according to a new survey by the Urban Institute, CNN/WPTZ reports.

Background

According to CNN/WPTZ, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) in 2011 said LARC methods -- including intrauterine devices (IUDs) and implants -- are the most effective form of reversible contraception. ACOG added that almost all reproductive-age women can safely use LARC methods.

The Guttmacher Institute reports that as of 2009, 8.5 percent of U.S. women use LARC.

Key findings

The survey, which included about 800 women between the ages of 18 and 44, found that while 90 percent of respondents are aware of condoms, and 86 percent know about oral birth control, only 31 percent said they knew about intrauterine devices (IUD) and hormonal implants.

Further, according to the survey, 32 percent of respondents did not know about the efficacy of implants, while nearly 20 percent said they were not familiar with the efficacy of IUDs. Moreover, 21 percent of respondents said they believed IUDs were either somewhat or very unsafe, and 23 percent said the same about implants.

According to the survey, women with the largest gaps in LARC knowledge were more likely to be non-white, non-Hispanic and low income.

Comments

Adele Shartzer, a research associate at the Urban Institute and one of the co-authors of the survey, said, "It's not a surprise that women were most aware of the condom and birth control pills, but the lack of awareness of IUDs and, in particular, implants was definitely surprising." She noted that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) (PL 111-148) may help increase awareness as newly insured women might be more likely to visit an OB-GYN and discuss contraceptive options. Another factor that may contribute to misinformation about LARC could be the necessity of visiting a physician to obtain IUDs and implants, CNN/WPTZ reports.

According to CNN/WPTC, not all providers have been trained to recommend LARC methods or are prepared to administer them.

Separately, Ginny Ehrlich, CEO of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, said that "if young women in particular are getting information from their mothers and their parents, the IUD and implant information that their mothers and parents have might not be accurate" because the devices have advanced in recent decades. She added, "[T]he IUD is not the IUD that it was 20, 30 years ago."

Ehrlich highlighted ways to increase awareness about LARC, particularly by boosting access to contraception. According to Ehrlich, women should be able to access the full range of birth control options within 60 miles of their residence.

She also discussed changing the discussion around LARC to make it more attractive for potential users. Researchers at Ehrlich's organization found that young women did not always respond to the term "long-acting reversible contraception," in part because they were concerned about how long-lasting the devices might be. Ehrlich said young women preferred alternative language, such as "low-maintenance methods." Similarly, discussing how users do not have to constantly think about LARC, given how discreet and long-lasting they are, also resonated among women, Ehrlich said.

However, Ehrlich stressed that despite LARC's efficacy, women must be able to choose the method they prefer. "We believe strongly that every woman should be able to choose the method of contraception she thinks is best for her, and so while (the IUD and implant) are incredibly reliable and effective, they may not be for everyone," she said, adding, "That's something we have to be very careful about as well" (Wallace, CNN/WPTZ, 9/14).