The most common reason U.S. women use oral contraceptive pills is to prevent pregnancy, but 14% of pill users—1.5 million women—rely on them exclusively for noncontraceptive purposes. The study documenting this finding, “Beyond Birth Control: The Overlooked Benefits of Oral Contraceptive Pills,” by Rachel K. Jones of the Guttmacher Institute, also found that more than half (58%) of all pill users rely on the method, at least in part, for purposes other than pregnancy prevention—meaning that only 42% use the pill exclusively for contraceptive reasons.
The study—based on U.S government data from the National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG)—revealed that after pregnancy prevention (86%), the most common reasons women use the pill include reducing cramps or menstrual pain (31%); menstrual regulation, which for some women may help prevent migraines and other painful “side effects” of menstruation (28%); treatment of acne (14%); and treatment of endometriosis (4%). Additionally, it found that some 762,000 women who have never had sex use the pill, and they do so almost exclusively (99%) for noncontraceptive reasons.
Menstrual-related disorders and irregular periods are particularly common during adolescence. Not surprisingly, the study found that teens aged 15–19 who use the pill are more likely to do so for non-contraceptive purposes (82%) than for birth control (67%). Moreover, 33% of teen pill users report using oral contraceptive pills solely for noncontraceptive purposes.
“It is well established that oral contraceptives are essential health care because they prevent unintended pregnancies,” said study author Rachel K. Jones. “This study shows that there are other important health reasons why oral contraceptives should be readily available to the millions of women who rely on them each year.”
Other hormonal methods such as the ring, patch, implant and IUD offer the same types of noncontraceptive benefits as the pill; however, this analysis was limited to oral contraceptive pills, because the NSFG did not ask about other hormonal methods. Given this limitation, the author suggests that the number of women relying on hormonal contraception for reasons other than pregnancy prevention is almost certainly higher than the 1.5 million estimated in this study.
For more information on the noncontraceptive benefits of the pill, click here “Beyond Birth Control: The Overlooked Benefits of Oral Contraceptive Pills.”