The recent 50-year anniversary of the pill sparked an onslaught of articles about the revolutionary force of birth control, making it seem like every woman in modern America is benefiting (or suffering) from its use. But according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s newest Statistical Abstract, the pill isn’t the un-matched Goliath of contraceptives it’s made out to be; in fact, sterilization is even more popular — we’re just not talking (or reading) about it nearly as much.
The Census Bureau statistics reveal that, while 61% of women between the ages of 15 and 44 use some form of contraception, only 17.3% of us are actually on the pill. Meanwhile, sterilization is just as responsible (or more) for keeping us from breeding like Catholics. According to the census report, 16.7% of women have been sterilized themselves, and 6.1% have male partners who’ve been sterilized. It’s not a shocker that women between 15 and 44 use methods besides the pill (or none at all), but last we checked, most women weren’t gabbing about sterilization options, either. So why are so many women getting their tubes tied, and why isn’t anyone talking about it? We asked around to find out why sterilization is secretly the most popular kind of birth control.
The abstract draws on data recorded between 2002 – 2008, but according to Dr. Vanessa Cullins, the Vice President for Medical Affairs for Planned Parenthood Federation of America, it’s been popular since way before then: “Permanent birth control, or sterilization, has long been the most popular method of birth control among couples. More women rely on permanent birth control for themselves or their partners than any other method.” She also points out that, unlike other methods, which have a rotating cast of users, women who use sterilization are forever in that statistical pool: “One reason tubal sterilization and vasectomy continue to be the most popular birth control is because they are permanent methods. Unlike reversible contraceptive methods, which people readily start, stop, and switch among, permanent contraception is forever; every year those who choose permanent methods continue to add to the pool of those who already have undergone sterilization.”
Still, the statistics focus on women in a limited age bracket, indicating that a lot more would-be fertile women are getting sterilized than popular culture (and conversations with our girlfriends) suggests. After all, we visited the gynecologist with nearly ever Sex and the City girl, but never did we get to hear about the merits of tubal sterilization, did we? And despite her clear disdain for children, we don’t remember Samantha ever singing the praises of permanent birth control to Carrie, Charlotte, and Miranda at brunch. For many women in their twenties and thirties, the procedure is something that an older relative might mention, having gotten their tubes tied after the birth of their last child, having decided their family was complete, but it seems more like an old-fashioned remedy than a modern day contraceptive option.
Sterilization seems scary, but then so would taking the pill, if we didn’t read articles about it, see wholesome, all-American models shilling for it all the time, and feel comfortable talking about it with our friends. But pharmaceutical companies are putting big money behind advertisements and PR pushes for the seemingly endless variety of oral contraceptives — and it’s no wonder, given their price tag — while sterilization, which results in minimal profits for drug companies, hardly gets any kind of press.
Since our friends aren’t talking about it, and there’s certainly no TV show putting it out there, we asked Dr. Cullins why so many women are secretly choosing sterilization. “For the last several decades, most women and men have not considered permanent methods until they reach their mid to late 30s — a time when many of those who have children have determined that their families are complete,” she explained. “Many women choose tubal sterilization because it is more than 99 percent effective, there are virtually no side effects, and complications are rare.”
So is sterilization a good option for you? “While women and men should certainly give considerable thought as to whether they want to permanently forego the option of having biological children, permanent methods are safe and highly effective ways to prevent unintended pregnancy for women and men who are sure they want no children in the future.”
Have you or your partner considered sterilization? Would you be willing to trade in your biological parenting options for permanent, reliable birth control? Tell us whether or not you’re willing to tie your tubes in our comments section, below: