A new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that the most popular methods of contraception – the pill, the patch, or the vaginal ring – are 20 times less effective than long-term birth control methods. Intrauterine devices (IUDs) and contraceptive implants are designed to stay in the body anywhere from 2-10 years, and provide continuous protection against pregnancy.
The study’s authors compared the rates of failure in various birth control methods in 7,500 women. Over the course of a year, 4.55 out of 100 participants on hormonal birth control became pregnant, compared to only 0.27 with a long-term contraceptive. Even more interesting – women under 21 had twice the risk of becoming pregnant on the pill.
Why? Mostly because it can be hard to remember to take a pill at the same time every day – and some hormonal methods aren’t very forgiving. Dr. Jeffrey Peipert explained his results to the Huffington Post, saying, “It’s the human factor. We just make mistakes sometimes. The long-acting reversible contraception methods are forgettable. You put them in place and they work very well.”
Still, the Guttmacher Institute has found that only 5.5% of women using contraception are using the IUD. (Even less have the implant.) Part of this is because of the faulty Dalkon Shield model in the 60s and 70s which caused infections and uterine perforations at an alarmingly high rate. It wasn’t very effective at preventing pregnancy, either. While this was the only brand of IUD plagued with these problems, the devices were wildly considered unsafe and fell out of favor for decades.
Now that newer, safer IUDs are available on the market, there’s another problem – many doctors simply don’t know how to insert them. And many doctors erroneously believe they are unsafe for use in women who haven’t had children.
Implants and IUDs are also expensive – while an $800 price tag spread over 10 years is less costly in the long run, it may be harder for women to come up with than $20 for a month of the pill. Women without insurance, or with only partial coverage, will usually find the cost prohibitive.
Dr. Sarah Bedstadt, an assistant professor in the department of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Rochester, told the Huffington Post, “In this country, the default birth control has always been birth control pills. This study really shows that there are much more effective methods. That’s not to say that all women should be using these methods. But women should have the information they need chose what’s right for them.”
Photo credit: Beatrice Murch