The number of U.S. women who use long-acting reversible contraceptive devices is soaring, according to a new federal report. The National Center for Health Statistics this week released findings from a national survey based on personal interviews of about 10,400 women. Whereas the birth control pill and the condom are the most commonly used methods, the number of women using long-acting implants such as intrauterine devices (IUDs)—the third-most common method—has gone up dramatically since the beginning of this century.
The new report examined three time periods. In 2002 only 2.4 percent of women who used birth control chose long-acting devices. In the 2006–10 period, that percentage jumped to 6 percent. In the 2011–13 period, it rose again to 11.6 percent.
The rise comes in the face of obstacles to such use, as Scientific American has recently reported. Although a 2012 study concluded that women using IUDs and similar implants were 17 times less likely to get pregnant than were women using pills, patches and vaginal rings, insurance companies frequently do not reimburse women for the cost of long-acting implants, and an implant with insurance can cost 100 times the price of a package of condoms.
Cost and availability hurdles may be one reason that IUDs are least likely to be used by teens and the youngest women, who may have the least resources. The women now most likely to use long-acting reversible contraception are aged 25 to 34, according to the report. That equals 16.5 percent of the contraceptive-using population. Use of these devices drops, however, among teens and younger women to 10.5 percent. The lower uses of such contraceptives by teens is unfortunate, given the high current numbers of teenage pregnancies—270,000 births in 2013—and abortions in the U.S. Both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists have endorsed IUDs as the most effective option for teens.