Use of Plan B “morning after” pills doubles, teen sex rates decline in CDC survey

The share of American women who say they have ever used emergency contraception after having sex has more than doubled since the so-called “morning after” or Plan B brand pills were approved to be sold without a prescription, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Thursday. 

The increase is among dozens of trends tracked in two reports now released from the CDC’s National Survey of Family Growth, examining survey results through 2019 on sex and birth control among teens as well as all women ages 15 to 44 years old. 

Among teens and adult women who have had sex, 26.6% told CDC’s survey through 2019 that they have ever turned to the emergency contraception pills, up from 10.8% in a previous round of the survey from 2006 through 2010. 

Among female teens who have had sex, 22.3% said they had ever used emergency contraception, up from 13.7% through 2010.

While emergency contraception pills have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration since 1998, the first options to buy them over-the-counter without going through a doctor were not greenlighted by the agency until 2006. 

Another type of emergency contraception is also available that relies on having a medical provider insert an intrauterine device, or IUD, within five days after sex. Though less convenient than the over-the-counter pills, the CDC says that option is considered “highly effective.”

Emergency contraception remains less common than other forms of birth control. 

The most commonly reported approach remains using a condom with a partner, at 94.5%, and 79.8% of women said they had used birth control pills.

Fewer teens say they have had sex

The CDC’s survey found that 38.7% of male teens say they have ever had sex. That is down from the findings through 2010, when 41.8% of male teens said they had ever had sex. The rate was lowest among White teen males, at 33.1%.

Among male teens under 18 years old, 23.2% say they have had sex, while the number climbs to 60.2% by 19 years old.

Among those who said they had not had sex, the most commonly chosen reason, picked by 35.3% of all male teens, was that they “haven’t found the right person yet,” followed by 26.2% who cited their religion or morals for not having had sex.

By contrast, the share of female teens who say they have ever had sex has inched down by a smaller amount. About 40.5% say they have had sex in the latest survey through 2019, down from 42.6% through 2010.

Overall, 88.0% of women ages 15 to 44 years old say they have ever had sex, a figure that is similar to the CDC’s previous findings.

Among male teens who have had sex, the share who say they used contraception during the first time they had sex has increased. 

Condoms remain the most common method used by male teens during their first time having sex, climbing from 79.6% through 2010 to 84.5% through 2019.

Use of IUDs has tripled since 2010

In women ages 15 to 44 years old, the CDC’s survey found through 2019 that 21.4% of women had ever relied on IUDs for birth control.

That is almost three times higher than the 7.7% of women who told the survey through 2010 that they had relied on this form of long-acting birth control, which is inserted into the uterus by a medical professional and lasts for years.

A previous release of results from the same survey focusing on current use of birth control had found that 10.4% of women reported they had long-acting reversible contraceptives, a category which includes IUDs as well as implants that can be placed into the arm. 

Among women who had tried but stopped using IUDs, the CDC’s survey found 32.8% cited dissatisfaction with the device — not another reason, like deciding to try to have a baby — for why they had it removed. 

Side effects from IUDs were among the most common reasons cited by 64.4% of women who stopped using them. While IUDs rank as one of the most effective methods of reversible birth control, kinds of IUDs that use copper can cause cramps and heavier periods. Other kinds of IUDs that use progestin, a hormone also used in birth control pills, can sometimes lead to abdominal pain. 

Both kinds of IUDs also carry some less common risks, the FDA says, including the potential for a slightly higher risk of a sexually transmitted infection known as pelvic inflammatory disease in the initial three weeks after they are inserted.

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