Vitality

Pregnancy Intentions Don't Influence Women's Birth Control Choices As Much As Relationships, Sexual Activity

birth control
Researchers are surprised to find women don't often take birth control with pregnancy intentions in mind. Sarah C, CC BY-ND 2.0.

As of now, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 62 percent of women who are of reproductive age use contraception, the most popular choice being oral contraceptives, which 28 percent of women use. While oral contraception may be more common among women than ever before, the reason why may not be what you think. According to a new study published in the journal Contraception, women have made their contraception choice based on current relationships and sexual activity, not their long-term pregnancy goals.

Penn State researchers Cynthia H. Chuang, an associate professor of medicine and public health sciences at Penn State College of Medicine, and Carol S. Weisman, professor of public health sciences and obstetrics and gynecology, conducted a survey involving almost 1,000 women in the Pennsylvania area. All of these women were currently on private health insurance, which covered their contraception, and were asked about their contraception use. Study participants were also asked about family planning, including their intentions of getting pregnant, as well as whether they’d been pregnant before and about pregnancy risk exposure.

All of the women surveyed had no intention of getting pregnant for the next 12 months. Specifically, researchers found that 13 percent of women were planning to get pregnant within the next 12 to 24 months, 25 percent were planning for the next two to five years, and 23 percent were planning for the next five or more years from the time of the study. On the other hand, 23 percent said they were not sure if they wanted a baby, while 16 percent said they had zero intention of becoming pregnant.

When asked about their choice to use contraception, researchers found that being in a relationship, or being sexually active was the number one reason women wanted to use prescription birth control. This seemed to contradict researchers' previous prediction — that women would choose birth control based on whether or not they wanted to get pregnant in the near future.

Researchers also found that pregnancy goals affected which type of contraception women were using. This was especially true among women not worried about the cost of their birth control.

"Currently, oral contraceptives (the birth control pill) are the most commonly used contraception in the U.S.— used by 16 percent of all women ages 15-44 — while LARCs (long-acting reversible contraceptives, including intrauterine devices and implants) are used by only 7.2 percent," the researchers explained in a recent press release.

Researchers ultimately found that those who were using oral contraceptives, like the pill, were women who wanted to get pregnant in the future, but not for at least another year. However, those who were using LARCs were more likely to be women who did not want to get pregnant at all.

Researchers are hoping that by asking women about their birth control choices, they will be able to help women prevent unwanted pregnancies. This study is part of a larger on-going trial to see if online interventions can help women make choices in line with their pregnancy goals.

"Over time, if overall use of prescription contraception and adoption of LARCs increase, the rate of unintended pregnancy — estimated at 51 percent of all U.S. pregnancies in 2008 — would be expected to decline," the researchers said.

As their study continues, researchers hope to better understand women’s birth control habits, while finding the optimal birth control method to better aid in family planning.

Source: Weisman C, Lehman E, Chuang C, et al. How do pregnancy intentions affect contraceptive choices when cost is not a factor? A study of privately insured women. Contraception. 2015. 

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