A new survey suggests that conspiracy theories continue to affect the use of birth control by African American men and women. In the survey of 500 black Americans, only half believed that the government tells the truth about the safety and side effects of new birth control methods.
One-third of respondents to the telephone survey believe that medical institutions use poor and minority people as “guinea pigs” to test new birth control methods, said study authors Sheryl Thorburn of Oregon State University and Laura Bogart of the Rand Corp.
Some also believed that the government uses birth control as a way to manage the black population in the United States. Almost one-fourth of those surveyed agreed that “poor and minority women are sometimes forced to be sterilized by the government,” while 22 percent agreed that “the government’s family-planning policies are intended to control the number of black people.”
Also, black men who strongly believed that the government engages in lies about birth control safety were less likely to use any forms of birth control. Women with the same strong beliefs were less likely to use contraceptive methods prescribed by a physician, such as the pill and devices like Norplant.
Thorburn said the conspiracy theories may have come from a “broader medical mistrust” of the government by black men and women, fueled by past history such as the infamous Tuskegee syphilis experiments between 1932 and 1972.
“Conspiracy beliefs do not occur in a vacuum,” Thorburn said. “The United States has a long history of efforts to control the fertility of African-American women.”
Despite the distrust, nearly 80 percent of those polled said they were currently using birth control. Researchers believe that community-based pregnancy prevention programs that address conspiracy theories directly could be the best way to combat suspicion of the government and medical establishment.
The findings of the survey are published in the August issue of the journal Health Education and Behavior.