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IUDs are now just as popular as condoms among young adult women


Businessweek's cover story last week had a stunning reveal: that billionaire Warren Buffett has quietly spent hundreds of millions of dollars on programs that make intrauterine devices, or IUDs, more available to American women.

The whole story is worth reading, but there's one other fact that I found startling as someone who has spent a lot of time writing about contraception in America: that young adult women between 25 and 34 now use IUDs just as frequently as condoms.

Percentage of all women ages 15 to 44 who were using female sterilization, the Pill, the male condom, and long-acting reversible contraceptives, by age: United States, 2011 to 2013. (CDC)

IUDs' popularity has risen remarkably in recent years, after a dip in the 1980s. The rise over the past decade has been especially big, a separate CDC report shows.


This is great news, at least when it comes to preventing unplanned pregnancy. Condoms have a failure rate of 18 percent (meaning 18 of 100 women using condoms will become pregnant within a year). IUDs, depending on which type is used, have a failure rate of between 0.2 and 0.8 percent.

So why is this trend happening now? A big factor is likely Obamacare's birth control mandate, which took effect in 2011 and requires nearly all insurance plans to cover all types of contraceptives — IUDs included — at no cost to the consumer. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has put stronger backing behind IUDs, recently recommending them as the "first-line" birth control for adolescents. And, of course, there is Buffett's millions in funding — likely another reason IUDs might be poised to overtake condoms as a more popular contraceptive in the not-so-distant future.