Nov. 16, 2011 at 8:34 AM ET
Just because your teenage daughter wants to go on the Pill doesn’t mean she’s necessarily planning on having sex, Mom and Dad.
In fact, a third of teenage users go on the Pill for non-contraceptive reasons, most commonly menstrual pain relief, more regular periods — which could help prevent migraines in some -- and clearer skin, according to a new report from the Guttmacher Institute.
As far as she knows, author Rachel Jones says, this is the first time anyone has looked at Pill use for reasons other than to prevent pregnancy. “Even my colleagues were surprised when we first ran the numbers.”
Jones based her report on numbers from the 2006-2008 National Survey of Family Growth, conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics, which is part of the CDC. The report's data were gathered using in-person interviews with 7,356 women ages 15 to 44.
Pill users were asked whether they took it for any of several reasons besides birth control: cramps or pain during their period; treatment for acne or endometriosis or regulation of their periods; or for some other purpose (although a few oral contraceptives are approved for treating in acne in women who also want to prevent pregnancy, the other non-contraceptive uses are “off-label”).
Many women said they used it for non-contraceptive reasons other than those listed, Jones says, noting that some perimenopausal women take the Pill to smooth their path to menopause.
An estimated 18 percent, or 11.2 million, women between the ages of 15 and 44 are currently on the Pill. About 14 percent of Pill users — representing 1.5 million U.S. teens and women -- take it only for non-contraceptive reasons, she says. About half of them have never had sex.
In addition, 9 percent of sexually experienced oral contraceptive users haven’t had sex in three months or more but continue to take the Pill. “They do have sex unexpectedly, so they’re prepared for it," Jones says. Plus, she says, they probably like having fewer cramps, a better complexion and regular periods.
Jones, a senior research associate at the Guttmacher Institute, decided to look at non-contraceptive uses of the pill after interviewing teens about issues related to sex. The girls “were really fascinated and interested in the pill for menstrual regulation.”
She says she hopes her report will get the word out that teens and women take the Pill for “real immediate health concerns,” not necessarily because they’re sexually active and don’t want to get pregnant.
Jones recalls one girl who went to see her doctor with her mom. “I have really painful periods,” the girl told the doctor. “Would the Pill be appropriate?” Jones says the girl’s doctor turned her down because she wasn’t sexually active.
Then, Jones says, there was the teenage boy who blanched when his girlfriend told him she wanted to go on the pill to ease her cramps. “No, don’t,” he urged his girlfriend. “Your parents are going to think we’re having sex.”