Birth Control Failure


Studies have shown that almost 50% of pregnancies in the United States each year are unplanned, unintended, or accidental. What is surprising, however, is that 50% of women faced with unplanned pregnancies were using birth control (also known as contraception) when they conceived! The question looming, therefore, is: what causes birth control to fail, and what can couples do to prevent this occurrence?

Types of Birth Control (Contraception)

First off, the only absolute means of preventing pregnancy are abstinence (i.e. not sexual intercourse) and more permanent methods (i.e. a vasectomy or tubal ligation).

Outside of these, all forms of contraception come with a certain degree of risk, with certain types more liable to fail than others. Research indicates that methods requiring less action on the part of the individual (where user error is more likely to factor in) are associated with lower rates of birth control failure.

The following is a list of contraception methods in approximate order of their likelihood to fail, going from most to least likely:

Cervical cap, contraceptive sponge, spermicide, penis withdrawal before ejaculation, natural family planning (i.e. avoiding sex near time of ovulation), female condom, emergency contraception, diaphragm, male condom, contraceptive patch, birth control pill (oral contraceptive), hormone injection, intrauterine device (IUD), implant.

Amongst these methods, one way to increase protection against pregnancy is to use more than one type of contraception at a time. For example, doctors recommend using spermicides in conjunction with condoms. However since some combinations are not recommended (i.e. never use a male condom and female condom together), one should consult with their doctor or fertility specialist first.

Leading Cause of Contraceptive Failure

The number one use of birth control failure, however, is not the device itself but misuse of the device by human beings, otherwise known as "user error." When birth control is not used exactly as instructed or consistently, they are likely to be less effective or not work at all.

Two types of contraception that are particularly susceptible to user error are taking the birth control pill and using condoms. Many women simply forget to take their birth control pills, and condoms not only easily tear or break, but if not inserted and used correctly and in a timely manner, can fail to prevent pregnancy.

Preventing Oral Contraceptive Failure

In order for the pill to work, it must be taken daily at the same time. Failure to take the pill even twice can significantly affect its effectiveness. Therefore it is imperative that women taking the pill to prevent getting pregnant make taking it an integral part of their daily routine.

Here are some additional quick tips to prevent oral contraceptive failure:

•- combine taking the pill with some other regular daily activity (i.e. brushing teeth)

•- always keep an extra pack of pills around in case one runs out

•- consult with a doctor before taking other medications/antibiotics, some of which may contribute to birth control pill failure

Preventing Condom Failure

Here are some quick tips on how to avoid condom failure:

•- never use expired condoms

•- open condom package carefully to avoid tearing it; inspect condom for tears before use

•- put on condom before any sexual contact, carefully following the directions and leaving room at top of the penis for the ejaculate

•- after ejaculation, remove condom carefully by holding its rim while withdrawing the penis, then sliding it away from the vagina

•- never reuse condoms

•- use only water-based lubricants (not oil-based such as Vaseline)


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