Free Contraception Does Not Increase Number of Sexual Partners

Free birth control does not increase the likelihood of multiple sexual partners or promote risky behavior, according to a study published in Obstetrics & Gynecology.

More access to birth control does not increase the likelihood of multiple sexual partners for women, finds a study published in Obstetrics & Gynecology.

Researchers from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis analyzed data from the Contraceptive CHOICE Project, which included 9,256 St. Louis women who were at risk for unintended pregnancy. Participants aged 14-45 were provided a birth control method of their choice, as well as a breakdown of effectiveness and side effects, at no cost for 12 months, such as intrauterine devices and implants, birth control pills, patches, and rings.

After 6 and 12 months, the women were surveyed about their sexual behaviors in the previous 30 days. From the total, 7,751 women (84%) completed both surveys. At baseline, 5.2% reported more than one male sexual partner, compared to 3.5% at 6 months, and 3.3% at 12 months. More than two-thirds of the women reported no change in the number of sexual partners at 6 and 12 months, while 13% reported a decrease and 16% showed an increase. For more than 80% of the women who reported increasing the number of sexual partners, the increase was from zero to one partner.

“The notion that women will have sex with more partners if you give them free birth control didn’t pan out in this study,” Jeffrey Peipert, MD, PhD, the study’s senior author and the Robert J. Terry Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, explained in a statement. “Providing no-cost contraception did not result in riskier sexual behavior.”

Of the women surveyed, 32% had a high school education or less, 35% received public assistance and 39% had trouble paying for basic expenses. Less than half (49%) had never had a child, while 62% had a prior unintended pregnancy.

The researchers also found that in all participants, frequency of intercourse increased from 4 episodes at baseline to 6 at the 6- and 12-month surveys. The survey showed more frequent intercourse did not increase the incidence of sexually transmitted infections at 12 months.