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Birth Control Options for University Students

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Birth Control Options for University Students

Mar 28, 2019

Less than half of high schools in the United States mandate contraceptive and sexual education, resulting in many young adults receiving misinformation—or no information all at—regarding medically accurate contraceptive methods. Dr. Kirtly Parker Jones talks to Grace Mason, founder and president of the University of Utah's Campus Contraceptive Initiative (CCI), about promoting family planning within the university setting, and how CCI is helping to expand access of contraceptive options to students.

Episode Transcript

Dr. Jones: I was talking to a group of 11 college students, all women, about family planning. They said, "We aren't really interested in family planning because we aren't planning any children right now." Really? What am I not getting here?

Announcer: Covering all aspects of women's health, this is "The Seven Domains of Women's Health" with Dr. Kirtly Jones on The Scope.

Dr. Jones: Sometimes you think people you are talking to know what you mean. Well, that's a mistake for sure. I make assumptions that young people in college know how their bodies work and about contraception, but maybe I'm wrong.

Today in The Scope studio we're talking to Grace Mason, a college student who knows a lot about contraception and is learning a lot about what her fellow students know and don't know. She is the founder and President of the Campus Contraceptive Initiative here at the University of Utah. Welcome, Grace.

Grace: Thanks for having me.

Dr. Jones: So, Grace, by the time young people get to college with all that's out there on the internet, they're pretty well-informed about contraception. Right?

Grace: Well, you would hope so, but unfortunately since less than half of the United States mandates contraceptive education and sexual education broadly, a lot of students come into college without having any sex ed. And a lot of students don't experience medically accurate sex ed in that regard. So if they come out, they may come out of high school with misinformation.

And so when we hope that students will turn to the internet to get better information, there's also a lot of misinformation on the internet that they're quite easy to find as many different people will tell teenagers what they should believe about sex ed rather than what their bodies do and how their bodies function.

So I think that students frequently come in believing things or not knowing anything and hoping that anyone will tell them the truth about how their bodies work.

Dr. Jones: Well, there's a lot of sex in the media, and there are books and there are songs, but none of them actually represent sexual initiation or contraception at all. No one says, "Oh, yeah, what are you using for contraception?" They never had that on the TV. So I read that one of the main reasons that men and women don't finish community college in the way they planned was an unplanned pregnancy. How can we change that?

I mean, if people are coming to college, they planned their college. But now they have to stop or have an interrupted course because of a baby that they didn't plan. What are we going to do about that?

Grace: I think that it is a broad issue, and it's something that Healthy People 2020, it's a huge part of their initiative is reducing the unintended pregnancy rate and increasing the intended pregnancy rate, because at the moment, 45% of pregnancies are unintended. And for students in college, who are 18 to 25, they are the most likely to experience an unintended pregnancy and they're also the most likely to be uninsured.

So there's a variety of issues there when it comes to a lack of knowledge and education coming into college. There's a coverage gap. There is the expense of care, which tends to be about $600 or more out of pocket for uninsured students.

Dr. Jones: For contraception?

Grace: For contraception.

Dr. Jones: If they want a long-acting method. It's cheaper if you're using condoms, of course.

Grace: Of course, but condoms are less reliable, and a lot of students don't like condoms in the sense of like their pleasure. And as they are less reliable, students are hoping to find a method that works with them.

Dr. Jones: So tell me about the Campus Contraceptive Initiative.

Grace: So the Campus Contraceptive Initiative is a interdisciplinary group of students, researchers and providers who are all targeting that issue of college completion, graduation and promoting family planning.

And so we are working through research and education to expand access to services, because we find that a lot of students don't know about the different options that they have when it comes to contraception. And so when it comes to finding the best method, they first need to have the education and that step of these are all the methods available to you. And then what does it look like in pricing? What does that look like for coverage? Where can you actually get those services?

Dr. Jones: So you've been doing a survey. You did a little survey last year, and you've been working on one this year. Any clues from your science so far in terms of what are people thinking out there?

Grace: Yes. We have definitely found out a lot of interesting things. That first survey, that went out last February, we got about 330 students to respond, and they were asked questions about their current sexual health, their knowledge as well as their desire or interest in a low-cost contraceptive clinic on campus.

We found out that 1% of students are currently going to the Student Health Center on campus, and that really blew us away because we found out that a lot of students are going to their doctor, but we know that a lot of students aren't comfortable with telling their parents about the services that they get.

And so that we have this huge uninsured gap of students where if they were able to access care at the Student Health Center, maybe they're being turned away because of the out-of-pocket prices, maybe they're being turned away of not knowing their options.

Dr. Jones: The Student Health Center, it may be student health, but it still has to be paid for. So students, unless they have that particular kind of student health insurance, still have to come up with money, and maybe their parents, if they use their parents' insurance, then their parents are going to get the bills or get the copays or get the information at home, so privacy becomes an issue.

Grace: It definitely does. And we saw that students, when asked about if they could have low-cost, affordable methods, 95% of students said, "Yes, I am interested in that." And many of those students said that they would actually partake in a service like that.

But broadly students want to know about the methods. We found that it wasn't just the birth control pill that was popular. If we were to have this contraceptive clinic, it was options. Across the board students want options for their birth control.

Dr. Jones: So where can college students get information about contraception? What methods are out there? How they work and where and how to get them? What's good information? What could they do right now?

Grace: Well, I would say that there are two wonderful resources out there. is one. They have an incredible comprehensive list of different options, how they work, the different varieties. For example, since the IUD, there are several different types of IUDs, being able to click on each one and seeing how they're different and what they might do.

And they are wonderful because they also can connect you with emergency contraception to your door or sending your monthly birth control to your door rather than going in clinic. And so they have a great set of resources. Also Planned Parenthood Learn, which is an offshoot of the broader Planned Parenthood website, also has a really user-friendly interface that can compare methods and look at methods and connect you to one of their clinics.

Dr. Jones: Okay. So both of these options have a place where you could put in your ZIP code and you can find out clinics where you could get healthcare?

Grace: Yes.

Dr. Jones: Well, that's good to know, and people need to know more. And having a reproductive life plan, a family planning plan is important if you want to have the family that you want when you want it, or if you don't want it, get the knowledge that you need and get it right. You worked hard to get into a university and you're working hard to finish, and this part of your life takes a little effort, but it's worth it. And thanks for joining us on The Scope. And thanks, Grace.

Grace: Thank you.

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