An interesting discussion in the Economist under the title “Crazy, sexy, stupid” looks at abortion, adoption, and birth control use. It explores some of the issues that explain why the abortion rate in the U.S. is 3x higher than the abortion rates in many other countries. However it does not discuss a key issue that results in unplanned pregnancies worldwide – the effectiveness and failure rates of different birth control options. Many people are surprised to find out that even commonly used, and highly touted hormonal methods are less effective than they may think.
Unplanned pregnancies in the U.S. and elsewhere can be reduced further by giving accurate information, making birth control accessible, encouraging correct use, and helping people find birth control methods that work best for them before they become sexually active. However, sexually active people should be aware that no method of birth control is perfect and there is always a risk of an unplanned pregnancy.
To look at the effectiveness issue further, we’ve re-posted an article written earlier on this topic:
Birth Control Effectiveness: How Risky is Your Birth Control?
Many people are surprised to find out that their chosen method of birth control is not quite as effective as they may think. They’ll ask, “If the Pill is 99.9% effective, how come I got pregnant?” When talking about birth control effectiveness, there are two rates to consider: Perfect Use and Typical Use.
Perfect Use effectiveness is the effectiveness of a method when it is used correctly and consistently all of the time. Typical Use effectiveness takes into account how the average person uses the birth control method in the real world. Perfect Use effectiveness is almost always higher than Typical Use effectiveness, but different birth control options can vary significantly between Perfect Use and Typical Use rates.
User-directed birth control methods tend to have more variation between their Perfect Use and Typical Use effectiveness rates than surgical and doctor-directed methods like a tubal ligation, vasectomy, IUD or an injectable, all of which are 97-99% effective in Perfect Use as well as Typical Use.
The chart below compares the rates for common, user-directed family planning options:
Of course we have to point out that CycleBeads compare quite favorably both in Perfect Use and in Typical Use to other user-directed family planning options. This is due to the fact that they were designed to be both highly effective and easy to use; therefore, people tend to use them correctly. We’ll take a closer look at CycleBeads effectiveness compared to other fertility awareness-based options in a later post.
So what does this chart mean? It means that in a given year, 8 out of 100 sexually active women using the Pill can expect to get pregnant; 12 out of 100 women using CycleBeads can expect to get pregnant; 15 out of 100 women using condoms can expect to get pregnant; 16 out of 100 women using diaphragms can expect to get pregnant; and 85 out of 100 women using nothing can expect to get pregnant.
In other words, if you are having sex, you are at risk of getting pregnant. Abstinence is the only 100% effective method in preventing both pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. All other birth control options carry some risk of failure.
It is up to the user to determine what level of risk is acceptable to him or her. But when deciding on a contraceptive method, the most important consideration is choosing a method with which a person is comfortable and which he or she will use correctly and consistently. If a person can’t use their chosen method correctly and consistently it will simply not be as effective for them or they will discontinue using it. Therefore, in addition to effectiveness, other factors must be considered: potential side effects, likelihood of continuation, accessibility, how a particular method incorporates into a user’s lifestyle, etc.
Tags: birth control effectiveness, birth control options, comparison of contraceptive methods, contraception effectiveness, CycleBeads, failure rate of birth control methods, natural birth control, unplanned pregnancy