Study Shows that Access to Cheap and Easy Contraception Increases Sexual Activity on College Campuses

imgresIn 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.


Categories:Culture Education

  • morganB

    May I suggest that we leave people to their own devices. Pushing the economic point may work for some, but not for all. God made all of us different. I would prefer to go back to when the Pharmacist kept the condoms secluded.

  • Dan

    No kidding.

    Look at the out-of-wedlock birth rates and see how easy access to BC has done respective to that,

  • Eric Johnson

    So not using contraceptives decreases unwanted pregnancies? Does that make sense?

    • Tom McG

      Eric, though it may seem counterintuitive, reduced access to contraceptives does reduce unwanted pregnancies, because it leads to changes in behavior – as the article points out. That’s why birth rates go down as affluence increase – regardless of access to contraceptives – behavior change.

      • Eric Johnson

        Tom, contraceptives don’t change behavior. People change behavior. Contraceptives don’t cause people to have sex. People cause people to have sex. Where is the data on how many unwanted pregnancies didn’t occur because of the availability of contraceptives? That answer is all over the internet and the answer isn’t because the pro-life movement has been so successful as has been suggested on this site. It’s because the use of contraceptives reduces the number of unwanted pregnancies. To suggest otherwise is not only counterintuitive, it’s just plain silly and a denial of reality.



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