One of the biggest arguments that “traditional family values” backers throw out about their opposition to subsidized or no co-pay birth control is an obsessive belief that by making contraception more available, it is somehow leading to lots and lots of sex. For those who truly believe that sex should exist only between married, opposite sex couples, that’s a horrifying idea, and one that they’ve especially obsessed over since the decades following Baird v. Eisenstadt decision, when contraception became legal for anyone regardless of marriage status.
That pervasive viewpoint has slipped its way into everything from opposition to comprehensive sex ed, to over the counter availability of emergency contraception, even rallying (and suing) against the birth control mandate. Each of these actions is publicly predicated on the idea that sex outside of marriage is always “risky behavior” and that by making birth control more accessible, it encourages people to engage in it.
It’s also completely false.
A new study making the rounds has verified what many of us were already pretty sure was true — free birth control doesn’t make people go out and have more sex and with more partners. According to researchers at Washington University in St. Louis, after analyzing data from over 9,000 subjects, it was conclusive that despite receiving contraceptives for free, women and teens who participated neither increased their sexual activity or the number of partners they engaged in that activity with.
“The notion that women will have sex with more partners if you give them free birth control didn’t pan out in this study,” said Jeffrey Peipert, MD, PhD, the study’s senior author and the Robert J. Terry Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology. “Providing no-cost contraception did not result in riskier sexual behavior.”
Study results showed that incidents of having multiple partners actually declined throughout the one year study, rather than increased, and that accidental pregnancy greatly decreased. Meanwhile, there was no increase in sexually transmitted disease.
“[T]here was no increase in the rate of sexually transmitted diseases among study participants, indicating that they weren’t guzzling whore pills and throwing caution into the wind with feverish abandon,” notes Jezebel author Callie Buesman. “Huh. Who would have guessed.”
While those who support reproductive rights and bodily autonomy are unsurprised by the results and happy to see more scientific proof that accessible birth control should be recognized as an important public health benefit, birth control opponents aren’t willing to let their favorite talking point go so easily. Their reaction to the study? Sure, maybe most people aren’t going to be harmed, but won’t someone please think of the virgins?
Walter B. Hoye, founder of Issues4Life, sent out a press release bemoaning the affect that having accessible, free birth control must be having on virgins, who are obviously throwing away their most precious gift willy nilly now that they can do so without getting pregnant. To make his point, he looks at the 5 percent of study participants (i.e., 462 participants) who said they were virgins to begin with, and how only 46 percent of them (212 participants) were still virgins once the study was complete. Obviously, if they were no longer virgins, they had “increased” their sexual partners, and that was a very risky behavior.
“Studying the effects FREE birth control will have on women who have NEVER been sexually active or used birth control, however will reveal different results,” stated Hoye. “The study showed that just 5% were virgins among those without partners at the time of the survey. At the end of the study only 46% were still virgins, which means 54% were NO LONGER virgins. This is a 54% INCREASE in sexual activity from a group of women who started at 0% and were given FREE birth control.”
Hoye refers to the increase as a “flood” of increased activity, as if 2.5 percent of the sample were an extremely large portion. What he completely ignores, however, is the fact that this is a group of girls or women who never had sex before who were obviously intentionally planning to engage in sex (otherwise, why would they be joining a birth control study in the first place), and even among that group nearly half of them chose not to have sex in the following year, despite knowing they were protected from pregnancy if they did.
That doesn’t sound like risky behavior to me. In fact, that sounds like extremely well planned and intentional behavior, which is exactly what making birth control easily accessible is supposed to encourage.
Obviously, birth control opponents are always going to hear what they wish to hear. Luckily, there are a full range of facts that can be offered to prove them wrong, regardless of what they choose to cherry-pick.
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