Rhythm Methodology

While writing Monday’s Morning Blather, we considered including the statistic everyone’s been mentioning the past week: That 98 percent of American women used contraception. This, we discovered upon chasing down the source, is true.

Only it doesn’t exactly say what everyone says it says.

Andrew Sullivan, ruminating on the subject yesterday, expressed it this way:

The Bishops fail to see any difference. They want contraception, practised by 98 percent of Catholic women, and critical to preventing higher rates of abortion, kept out of any healthcare plan an employer decides.

The study we found — a 2010 CDC survey — doesn’t include the faith of respondents, but otherwise it’s in, um, broad agreement:

More than 99% of women 15–44 years of age who have ever had sexual intercourse with a male (referred to as ‘‘sexually experienced women’’) have used at least one contraceptive method.

There are two catches to this statement. The first is that “contraceptive method” covers twenty-one examples, twenty of which aren’t the Pill. The second is that there’s a stark difference between lifetime use and current use.

Neither of these catches undermines the general assertion, but for the sake of clarity, we chose to say that “four out of five American women have used the Pilll”. This may not be as spectacular as a meme-inviting “99 percent”, but it’s solid enough in itself without being misleading.

Because when you look at the Lifetime Contraception Winner’s Circle, it doesn’t quite paint the picture you’re looking for:

• Condom: 93%
• Pill: 82%
• Withdrawal: 58%

Needless to say, two of these things are not at issue, although one of them is expressly condemned by Genesis.

The CDC survey also asked women which contraceptive method they used in the past three months, and here the responses are even less overwhelming:

• Pill: 17%
• Female sterilization: 17%
• Condom: 10%

Why the low numbers? Well, for starters, one in five hadn’t been laid recently — a number substantially unchanged in thirty years, if you’re keeping score. (And where’s the outrage? Surely some other advanced Western democracy is getting more than we are.)

Like we say, the snapshot view doesn’t undermine the lifetime landscape, but there’s a big difference between is and have. It’s accurate to say that 99 percent of American women have practiced some form of contraception at some point in their lives. But don’t let that mislead you into thinking that all of them are doing it now. It makes a great rallying cry, but we’re the ones who are supposed to live in truth.


Of course 99% of sexually active women aren’t using them at any given moment, given there are the non-sexually active, the sexually active who are trying to get pregnant, the sexually active who are infertile, sterilized, or post-menopausal, and the sexually active who are partnered with someone who is infertile or sterilized. Not to mention sexually active women who can’t afford contraceptives, or who are pressured by their partner to not use contraceptives (or have their contraceptives sabotaged by their partner), or somehow think that being on or prepared with contraceptives makes you a slut and so if you happen to get pregnant, well, that’s a sign from God and there’s always CalWORKS to help pay for the kid. (I shake my head at this, but I have heard this from multiple women, usually former clients. It was enough to make me a Republican).

I hadn’t heard “our side” say that 99% of women are on the Pill or use contraceptives – I’ve only heard women’s health advocates say “have used contraceptives.” If morons on MSM can’t get it straight, that’s not necessarily the fault of “our side” of the issue.

Interestingly, most insurance companies won’t cover IUDs, even though they have the highest pregnancy prevention success rate, and work out to be cheaper over a five year period than covering oral contraceptives. Most insurance companies didn’t cover prescription contraceptives until states began passing equity in prescription coverage bills and the Congress passed one for federal employee insurance plans (little trivia note: Republican Olympia Snowe was the Senate sponsor). Goes to show that the insurance companies aren’t going to cover shit unless directly ordered to do so.

Let us not forget the women who aren’t sexually active who use birth control pills to treat medical conditions, such as endometriosis. You think the insurance companies are going to believe the woman and her doctor that the pill is not being used to prevent the consequences of slutty behavior? I can tell you from personal experience they will not.

. . . two of these things are not at issue, although one of them is expressly condemned by Genesis. Must have been the Phil Collins version. I think Peter Gabriel would be cooler than that.

@SanFranLefty: I’m just amazed at the number of teen/young women who get pregnant because Mr. Sperm Donor won’t wrap up the weasel. That is exactly the kind of guy who will split well before birth. I remember seeing a really attractive young woman on the walking trail last fall, obviously late in her pregnancy, telling a friend on the phone “we’re not together anymore.” I guess that single motherhood is the norm now. Also, I can’t wait for a nephew of ours to announce a pregnancy with his current girlfriend, who would be the third woman he’s had children with. None of us knew about No. 2 until about 6 months ago, even him. Dude is in his early 20s.

Add a Comment
Please log in to post a comment