Surprising, to say the least: a recent study found almost a quarter of sexually active women 25-45 don't really care if they get pregnant or not. And for those who do care, this might be bad news.
According to CNN's Ed Payne, researchers at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln surveyed almost 4000 women, and found that while 71% were trying not to get pregnant, and 6% were trying to conceive, a full 23% were "OK either way." To those of us for whom an unintended pregnancy would be very unwelcome, this is surprising news. But given frequent media portrayals of desperately baby-hungry women, it may be kind of refreshing. If the study is accurate, a significant percentage of women are pretty serene about whether or not they conceive right now — or even blasé.
Of course, this finding has health implications — especially if these women are similarly blasé about STD protection. But rather than focus on this issue, coverage of the study bypasses women's health and goes straight to their unborn kids. Payne quotes lead study author Julia McQuillan:
If health-care providers only ask women if they are currently trying to get pregnant and women say no, then the assumption is that they are trying not to get pregnant. Clearly, many women are less intentional about pregnancy. Yet this group should be treated as if they will likely conceive and should therefore get recommendations such as ensuring adequate folic acid intake and limiting alcohol intake.
McQuillan's right that the trying/not trying binary may need rethinking. But treating a greater number of women as "pre-pregnant" has serious implications for that 71% actively trying not to conceive. I doubt I'm the only woman who's received different care — even different medications — solely based on my sexual activity and presumed fertility, though I repeatedly stated that I was on birth control and did not plan to get pregnant. I recognize that no birth control is a hundred percent effective, but when I'm sick, I want doctors to focus on my living, breathing, actual body, not on that of some notional fetus.
So how to deal with the 23% without compromising the 71%? We could start with better communication. Pregnancy is a somewhat touchy subject, but there's no reason doctors can't ask women if they're hoping to conceive, hoping not to conceive, or "OK either way." Those in the last group might benefit from advice about alcohol or vitamin consumption, as McQuillan suggests, and they might welcome such advice. But those in the middle group — still a majority of sexually active women — deserve care geared toward them, not the kids they're trying not to have.
Image via keki/Shutterstock.com.