This Week In Unintended Consequences: LARCs and Condom Use | Vol. 3 / No. 20.4

"Wrap it" is still good advice | Photo: Paul Keller< CC BY 2.0
“Wrap it” is still good advice | Photo: Paul Keller< CC BY 2.0

Good things and bad things, folks.


Last week I wrote about how, thanks to the rise in popularity of LARCs, or Long Acting Reversible Contraceptives, America is seeing a decline in unintended pregnancies. This is good news because, as Lindsey has recently shown, once you’re pregnant in America, there’s not a lot you can do about it thanks to the rise of TARPs, or Targeted Regulation of Abortion Provider bills.

But this week STAT has a story that shows how even things which we’d usually think of as good (and which in many ways are good) can still have unintended negative consequences. It turns out that, thanks to the “fire-and-forget” methodology of LARCs — get an IUD or a subdermal implant, forget about it for years — some people aren’t being so diligent with condom use. And while the LARCs take care of unintended pregnancy, well, they don’t stop the spread of disease.

A recent study of nearly 2300 sexually active high school girls found that the 1.8% who used LARCs were about 60% less likely to use condoms than the 22.4% who use oral contraceptives. This isn’t world-ending stuff here, and I’m actually pretty happy to hear that people are using condoms in addition to other methods of birth control, but it means a couple of things:

Users of highly effective LARC methods may no longer perceive a need for condoms even if they have multiple sexual partners, which places them at risk for sexually transmitted infections. As uptake of LARC increases among adolescents, a clear need exists to incorporate messages about condom use specifically for sexually transmitted infection prevention.

That is to say that we might need to work on our messaging for the reasons for condom use. Or, put another way:

If you have a penis (or know someone who does) and use it to engage in sexual activity that could transmit an STD, put a condom on it. Because an IUD won’t protect anyone from the fact that antibiotic resistant gonorrhea is an actual thing that exists now.

The story from STAT is here; the research article can be found in JAMA Pediatrics.


Richard Ford Burley is a human, writer, and doctoral candidate at Boston College, as well as an editor at Ledger, the first academic journal devoted to Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. In his spare time he writes about science, skepticism, feminism, and futurism here at This Week In Tomorrow.