- According to a Cosmopolitan and Power to Decide survey, 70% of young women have quit or are considering quitting oral contraception.
- Many women are switching to other, longer-term forms of contraception.
- INSIDER spoke with doctors to see how accurate these findings are.
For years, the term birth control conjured up images of tiny, multicolored tablets that must be taken at the same time every single day to be effective. But that standard image is changing for many people.
According to a recent survey from Cosmopolitan and Power to Decide, a campaign to prevent unplanned pregnancy, 70% of participants have considered stopping or stopped taking oral contraceptive pills over the past three years.
From a strictly anecdotal perspective, this checks out. Although I am a millennial woman who still takes birth control pills, I have seen many of my peers opt out of oral contraceptives in favor of more long-lasting forms of birth control, like intrauterine devices (IUDs), over the past few years.
Does this mean that the pill will linger on the shelves alongside the diaphragms and spermicidal lubricants of yore? Or is this survey just a blip?
INSIDER spoke with Dr. Mary Jane Minkin, a clinical professor in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Sciences at the Yale University School of Medicine and Dr. Alyssa Dweck, a gynecologist in New York, to find out if more young women are quitting the pill — and, if so, why.
Longstanding birth control myths make people weary of continuing with the pill.
Despite Cosmopolitan’s findings, birth control is still a popular choice — just not by a large margin. According to the Guttmacher Institute, of the 62% of women who use contraception, 25.9% use oral contraceptives, 10.9% use IUDs, 4.5% use an injectable hormone treatment, and 2% use a vaginal ring. Some doctors are seeing the pill’s dominance give way to other forms of birth control, mainly due to concerns some women have regarding the pills hormone levels and how they might affect their body.
“Women seem more anxious about ingesting hormones in general,” Dweck told INSIDER. “Word has also gotten out and resonated that the currently available IUDs are safe and have no day-to-day hassle of taking a pill.”
Of course, pretty much every long-term birth control method, other than the copper IUD, puts some type of hormone into the body. But myths about the pill are nothing new. Minkin said that she sees patients who are convinced that oral contraceptives are making them gain weight.
“Classically, that’s probably the most common reason my patients have told me they’re thinking about going off the pill,” Minkin told INSIDER. “A number have done so, only to confirm that it wasn’t the pill that was making them gain the weight.”
Another birth control pill myth? That the formula hasn’t changed since they were invented.
“Birth control pills have been around for a very long time,” Minkin told INSIDER. “And when they first came out they were very strong. 50 or 60 years ago, when pills first came out, 100 micrograms of estrogen was the standard dose. Today, there are pills that have 10 micrograms of estrogen.”
This doesn’t mean that today’s birth control pills carry no side effects. What it does mean is that the pill you take today is very different than the ones your mother or grandmother would have taken. Because of this, you probably won’t react the same way.
More women are opting for IUDs over birth control pills.
Although theCosmopolitan survey does a good job of identifying a certain kind of cultural zeitgeist among a particular group of women, it is unlikely that 70% of all women who currently take an oral contraceptive are going to stop taking them altogether, as the survey suggests. In fact, Dweck noted that in her own practice, she hasn’t necessarily seen a decrease in oral contraceptive use — but she has “most definitely” seen an increase in IUD requests.
Minkin echoed this, saying she works with a wide range of birth control options to ensure that her birth control prescriptions are well-suited for patients and their needs.
“If you come in for an appointment, and you seem to have trouble remembering things, I’m not going to prescribe you the pill,” she told INSIDER. “We’d look into an IUD or other options in that case.”
Birth control pills still remain a popular choice, given their non-contraceptive benefits.
The birth control pill may lose out on convenience when compared to something like an IUD, but it offers a plethora of other benefits. Because of this, it is unlikely that the pill will be completely phased out.
“The birth control pill is not going anywhere fast,” Dweck told INSIDER. “There are numerous non-contraceptive benefits [of the pill] that should never be taken for granted, including cycle and menstrual cramp control, treatment of PCOS and other hormone imbalances, acne and hirsutism treatment, [and] lowering the risk of uterine and ovarian cancers.”
More birth control methods means more reproductive control.
The real story here may not be the idea that women are quitting the pill, but rather that women are gaining more access to contraception. Indeed, according to the Cosmopolitan survey, 25% of women who were thinking about quitting the pill were doing so to try out a different birth control method.
This is a good thing, according to Minkin, because it allows women to be proactive about their reproductive health instead of accepting a static, one size fits all approach to birth control.
“What worked for you five years ago may not work for you today,” Minkin told INSIDER.
In the end, at least one thing is clear — contraceptive options are becoming increasingly diverse, and, by the looks of it, many women are taking advantage of this diversity. Whether this brings on the demise of the pill or (more likely) not, at the end of the day, having more contraceptive options can only be good news for women.