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.

Posted in: Birth Control Effectiveness, Natural Birth Control, CycleBeads

Tags: birth control effectiveness, contraception effectiveness, family planning effectiveness, perfect use, typical use

2 comments for "Birth Control Effectiveness: How Risky is Your Birth Control?"

MS says:

I always find it crazy that when talking about hormonal birth control everyone cites perfect use efficacy and when talking about natural methods and even condoms, everyone talks about typical use.

Cycle Technologies says:

Great point. It has been an issue for a long time that most sources talk about "perfect use effectiveness" when talking about hormonal birth control options, but they talk about "typical use effectiveness" when talking about fertility awareness-based methods and condoms. It has created an impression that hormonal options are more effective than they actually are, and that natural methods and barrier methods are significantly less effective in comparison – which is not true.

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