Despite the availability of contraception, over two in five women in the United States forgo any form of protection during sex, says a new survey, possibly because they misjudge how likely they are to get pregnant.
The Contraception in America study, conducted by medical communications company Strategic Pharma Solutions and sponsored by pharmaceutical company Teva Women's Health, looked at 1,000 women between the ages of 18 and 49, and also surveyed 100 OB-GYNs and 101 primary care physicians who treat women, reported ScienceDaily. The women were surveyed about their contraceptive use and preferences, as well as their pregnancy history. The survey yielded several striking findings about how U.S. women are using contraceptives -- or aren't:
1. Over two in five women who are at risk of pregnancy (i.e. not trying to have kids and haven’t been sterilized) don’t use contraception. “While contraception is widely available, women don't access clinics or health care providers," Rebecca Brightman, MD, a clinical instructor at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York told ScienceDaily. "Women who are uninsured frequently don't seek the attention of a health care provider until [they’re already pregnant].”
2. Of the women at risk of getting pregnant who don’t use contraception, nearly two-thirds believe they aren’t at risk, either because they aren’t having sex or because they’ve had fertility issues. These women may become sexually active or fertile over time, so they women may still be underestimating their own risk of pregnancy.
3. Women underestimate their ability to get pregnant accidentally. The survey found that only 7 percent of women who are sexually active and not trying to get pregnant believed that they were at “high risk” of accidental pregnancy and 11 percent said they were at “medium risk.” However, 31 percent of women have experienced an accidental pregnancy during their reproductive years.
4. Forty-three percent of women who had been pregnant previously, had experienced at least one unintended pregnancy. Of those 43 percent, 50 percent said that their unintended pregnancies had occurred as the result of failed birth control (i.e. a ripped condom or not taking their birth control pill regularly).
5. The pill is the most popular form of contraception. About 15 percent of women reported using the pill in the last 30 days, compared to 8 percent who said they used a male condom.
6. Of the women who reported using birth control, 1 in 10 had experienced a contraceptive failure in the last year. Women ages 18-24 are most likely to report flawed birth control use. (30.8 percent).
7. Many women are confused about how emergency contraception works. Although 91 percent of women have heard of it, only 47 percent correctly reported that the morning-after pill allows the body to avoid a pregnancy rather than terminate an existing pregnancy.
8. Women frequently discuss birth control with their doctors. Ninety-eight percent of OB-GYNs and 88 percent of primary care physicians said that they routinely talk about birth control with female patients of reproductive age.
The survey’s results indicate a lingering knowledge gap among women about accidental pregnancy and various birth control methods, including emergency contraception. The researchers behind the Contraception in America survey suggested that women and women’s health care providers need to work in tandem to promote effective family planning.
At least one blogger, Blisstree’s Hanna Brooks Olsen, suggested that poor sexual education programs and the politically-charged nature of birth control is partly responsible for the findings. Limited or biased sex ed ends up hampering women’s knowledge and therefore their ability to make informed decisions regarding family planning, she argued:
Abstinence-only education and lying to teens (which happens a lot), does women a huge disservice later in life. It leaves them uninformed or unaware of their fertility choices as adults ... The fact is, contraception has become an inflammatory, controversial topic and a political pawn, rather than an actual, burdensome medical fact in the lives of most American women.
Regardless of political beliefs, women are faced with choices about family planning, fertility and birth control. According to the study results, not all women are informed enough to make those choices.