Women have access to more contraceptive options than ever: pills, IUDs, condoms—take your pick. (Of course, we wish there wasn’t such a contentious political conversation around women’s bodies, but that’s for another story.)
With so many easily accessible (not to mention easily reversible) options out there, you might be shocked to find that over a quarter of all women opting to use some form of contraception are going for female sterilization—AKA “tying their tubes”—according to the most recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Here’s How to Find the Best Birth Control Option for You.)
The report breaks down the favored methods of contraception among women who are opting to use some form of birth control (which was about 62 percent of women between the ages of 15 and 44 between 2011 and 2013, when the data was collected). And female sterilization is currently being used by a whopping 25 percent of women who are using some type of birth control, or 15 percent of the total population. (Psst… Don’t fall for these IUD myths!)
That makes getting your tubes tied the second most popular form of birth control, trumping condoms, implanted devices like the IUD, and birth control shots. Woah. If that wasn’t crazy enough, the non-reversible method is a super close second to the popular pill. We’re talking less than a one percent margin.
This isn’t a new trend, though. The number of women opting for the permanent procedure has remained pretty constant since the mid-1990s, according to historical data from the CDC.
“The obvious fact that needs consideration is the permanence of a tubal ligation,” says Alyssa Dweck, M.D., assistant clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. “It’s imperative that women are aware that this is done with the intention that they definitively don’t want more children.”
Getting your tubes tied sounds pretty simple, but the actual procedure isn’t quite the pretty bow the name would suggest. In most tubal ligations, a doctor will surgically go in and cut, burn, or clamp the Fallopian tubes shut, which, as you might guess, is irreversible. Though the procedure is common, it’s definitely a drastic move.
Considering the total permanence of this pregnancy prevention method, you might assume that the women boosting tubal ligation to the number two spot in the contraceptive rankings would be on the older end of the spectrum and done having kids. Anecdotally, Dweck says that’s pretty much the case in her practice, but the CDC report tells a slightly different story.
According to their data, older women are the largest demographic opting to have their tubes tied. However, millennial women are still a significant part of this population.
So if so many of us are already doing it, is getting your tubes tied something you should consider if you don’t want kids?
“I would typically be hesitant to offer this procedure to young women who haven’t had kids without quite a bit of thought since you never know what the future might hold,” says Dweck.
Given the ever-expanding range of birth control methods available, choosing a path so permanent is, as Dweck says, not something to take lightly. Have a few conversations with your gyno to make a plan for how you want to approach pregnancy (or lack thereof) in the long run.