Let’s Talk Contraception: How Effective Is My Birth Control?

According to the Guttmacher Institute, 62 percent of women of child-bearing age (roughly 15 to 44 years of age) currently use a contraceptive method. Most contraceptive users are married and on average would like to have two children. This means that a woman might be using a contraceptive method for more than 30 years.

Studies have calculated that if a sexually active woman is not using any contraceptive method, over the course of a year she has an 85 percent chance of becoming pregnant. Using contraceptives greatly decreases this chance, but there are still some possibilities that her contraceptive method could fail to prevent pregnancy.

To maximize your contraception’s effectiveness, use it as correctly and consistently as possible.

When choosing a contraceptive method, you might want to use the safest and most reliable method available. How likely is it that your choice could fail? With the many types of birth control at your disposal, how do you know which is most effective? And why, with even the most effective contraception around, do women still have unintended pregnancies?

If we rank birth control methods according to most effective to the least effective, how do they compare? How is effectiveness measured?  Studies following lots of women using different forms of birth control over many years have allowed us to determine what percentage of the time each contraceptive method is effective. This percentage also depends on how consistently and correctly a woman uses her chosen method. Effectiveness can be shown with a range of percentages. If a woman uses her method consistently and correctly (meaning that she uses contraception correctly and exactly as directed by her medical provider or the manufacturer), it is called perfect use, and the effectiveness of her contraceptive is at the top end of the range. If the woman uses her method regularly but in a less consistent or reliable way, she is a typical user, and the effectiveness of her contraceptive will be at the lower end of the range. Some methods may have only one percentage number because the woman has little control over the use of her method (such as an implant or IUD).

For example, birth control pills are rated as 92 to 99 percent effective. With perfect use, as described above, for every 100 women using birth control pills for a year, only one of them would get pregnant. Perfect use is difficult to maintain; you may miss a pill, take it too late, or take another medication that alters its effectiveness. This is called typical use. And when 100 women use birth control pills typically for a year, the effectiveness decreases and the chance of becoming pregnant increases to about eight women out of 100.

Birth control pills are actually very effective at preventing pregnancy for perfect and less-than-perfect users. Still, if you consider using birth control pills over many years, the chances of failure may increase slightly because of the difficulty of maintaining perfection, or just the increased risk statistically when used over longer stretches of time.

Some of the most effective contraceptives are implants and IUDs. These methods all require a medical provider to place a device or perform a procedure. Using one of these methods takes the control of contraception out of the patient’s care and influence, and in general, the less a person needs to do or remember, the more effective the contraception. And IUDs and implants are equally effective for any woman using one of these methods because she doesn’t need to worry about perfect use versus typical use. IUDs and implants are more than 99 percent effective, meaning fewer than one woman out of 100 might get pregnant after one year of use.

To maximize your contraceptive’s effectiveness, use it as correctly and consistently as possible. Abstinence is the only 100 percent effective method, but even less reliable contraceptives such as male condoms can greatly reduce pregnancy risk if used absolutely correctly for each and every act of intercourse. Plus they have the added bonus of protection against sexually transmitted diseases and HIV. Condoms are the only method for sexually active people that protect against pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.

Contraception works. Contraception empowers women to be able to plan their families and space their pregnancies. Using reliable contraception can decrease unintended pregnancies that may result in abortions. Get educated about the methods available to you and how to use them properly to your best advantage. If you have questions, talk to a health care provider at Planned Parenthood today!

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