Asian American Women Struggle with Birth Control Use and Safe Sex—and the Trump Administration’s Policies Aren’t Helping

For many years, the Asian American/Pacific Islander (AAPI) community has been facing a quiet struggle with birth control use and safe sex—a problem only exacerbated by the Trump administration’s efforts to limit access to birth control and promote abstinence-only sex education. A more conservative Supreme Court lineup is also likely to further jeopardize access.

Planned Parenthood supporters protest outside the Supreme Court in 2011. (Charlotte Cooper / Creative Commons)

Right now, less than 40 percent of AAPI women use any type of contraception on a regular basis. AAPI women often face difficulties obtaining birth control and information about preventing pregnancy due to a multitude of reproductive health barriers that include language access, stigma and shame from family and community, and lack of sex education in their schools.

Only 12 percent of AAPI women cite the birth control pill as their method of contraception, compared to 21 percent of white women. A 2006 study also revealed that AAPI youth were significantly less likely to use protection when having sex for the first time, and 40 percent of AAPI women have had unprotected sex in their lifetime — the highest rate out of all racial groups. And although young AAPIs are on average using condoms at high rates, many foreign-born AAPIs tend to use less effective birth control methods such as spermicide and withdrawal. All of this speaks to a crisis in access to safe and affordable birth control, especially oral contraceptives.

Low rates of effective birth control use among AAPI women are often tied to cultural stigma around discussing sex and sexual health. AAPI parents report significant discomfort at communicating with their children about sex, and many avoid the conversation altogether. Young AAPI women may avoid seeking prescriptions for these birth control methods due to fear of parental disapproval. Many feel pressured to lie to their physicians entirely, as parents have access to children’s medical information until they turn 18.

Plus, approximately 35 percent of AAPI households are linguistically isolated, meaning that no one in the house older than the age of 14 speaks English “very well.” Language barriers can prevent AAPI parents from speaking to their children about these topics even if they want to. Because of this, youth end up more likely to get information about sex from school than from their parents.

Unfortunately, many young AAPI women face yet another obstacle: improper sex education (or complete lack thereof). Across the U.S., localities including Gwinnett County in Georgia – which has a significant AAPI population – utilize abstinence-only education within their schools. This deprives students of knowledge about effective birth control methods. What’s more, multiplestudies have shown that withholding this kind of information from young adults is actually hurting them. Places that strictly adhere to abstinence-only sex education actually see more unplanned pregnancies among young women. This is especially concerning for young AAPI women who receive abstinence-only education and do not receive any kind of information about sex from their families. They end up missing out on the real, factual information they need to make healthy decisions about sex and birth control.

One way to help women in our communities have more control over when and how they parent, especially low-income and uninsured AAPI women, is over-the-counter oral contraception. The U.S. is among the minority of countries that require a prescription for the birth control pill. Birth control pills are one of the most effective and reliable methods of birth control, and when women have access to low or no-cost over the counter birth control pills, they are much less likely to have an unintended pregnancy.

With the AAPI population rapidly growing across the country, it has never been more important to address the issues that women in the community face every day, including their reproductive choices. With easier access to birth control, AAPI women can better control when and how they become pregnant or have children with greater agency over their bodies and their lives.

Sung Yeon Choimorrow is the executive director of the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, the nation’s only organization dedicated to advocacy at the intersection of gender and racial justice for Asian American Pacific Islander women and girls. Sung Yeon is a Public Voices Fellow with the Op-Ed project.

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