Study Shows that Access to Cheap and Easy Contraception Increases Sexual Activity on College CampusesBy
In 2011 the University of Michigan’s Population Studies Center published a study looking at how the cost of oral contraceptives impacted the sexual activity of college women. In 2005, the passage of the federal Deficit Reduction Act led to a sharp increase in the price of birth control pills at college health centers. The increase was dramatic as the cost of oral contraceptives went from between 5 to 10 dollars a month to between 30 and 50 dollars a month. The fact that the increase in the price of oral contraceptives was both unexpected and dramatic – made this an excellent natural experiment to analyze how the cost of contraceptives impacts contraceptive use specifically and sexual activity more broadly.
Survey data on contraceptive use and sexual activity was obtained from the National College Health Assessment (NCHA) and the National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG). The results indicated that increases in the cost of oral contraceptives reduced use of the birth control pill. Not surprisingly, this decrease in pill usage was even more dramatic among college women who lacked health insurance and among college women who had large credit card balances. The study also found that after the price of oral contraceptives increased – there were statistically significant decreases in both the frequency of sexual intercourse and the number of sex partners.
The fact the easy access to contraceptives increases the amount of sexual activity explains why programs to distribute or subsidize contraceptives often fail to reduce the unintended pregnancy rate. Even Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen co-authored a study in 1996 which showed that easy access to oral contraception increased the amount of sexual activity – and might have resulted in increases in both the unintended pregnancy rate and the out-of-wedlock birth rate. Furthermore, even though contraceptive use has been increasing consistently over time – the unintended pregnancy rate has held relatively constant. Mainstream media pundits who complain pro-lifers need to become more contraception friendly should take a closer look at this and other studies.