The majority of U.S. women are misinformed about birth control’s effectiveness, according to a new survey conducted by the American College of Nurse Midwives. Just one in five women were able to correctly identify the most effective form of contraception that’s currently available, and most of the participants said they didn’t feel very knowledgeable about their different birth control options.
The American College of Nurse Midwives surveyed a nationally representative sample of women between the ages of 18 and 45. When asked which method of birth control most effectively prevents pregnancy, nearly 75 percent of women chose abstinence. Many women also ranked oral birth control pills and the male condom at the top — while just 20 percent chose the IUD, which medical professionals actually consider to be the most effective contraceptive (chart courtesy of the Huffington Post):
It’s perhaps not surprising that so many respondents chose abstinence, considering the United States’ current approach to sexual health information. For the past two decades, social conservatives have successfully rolled back comprehensive sex ed requirements in public schools, creating a patchwork of state-level laws that allow many Americans to grow up without any accurate information about contraception. In reality, however, abstinence is hardly a foolproof method. Studies have shown that even when teens pledge they’ll remain abstinent, many of them don’t actually follow through.
The same type of user error impacts the pill’s effectiveness. Although oral birth control pills are more than 99 percent effective when taken correctly, many women don’t always take them exactly as directed — some accidentally skip pills, and some put off refilling their birth control prescription in order to save money. The CDC estimates that about nine percent of the women who use the pill end up accidentally getting pregnant. When it comes to condoms, the failure rate is even higher, at about 18 percent.
In fact, the contraceptive methods that the survey participants ranked lower — the IUD and the implant — are much more effective because they have less potential for user error. One recent study found that women who use an IUD are 20 times less likely to accidentally get pregnant than the women who use a shorter-term form of contraception, like the pill.
Many of the women who participated in the American College of Nurse Midwives’ survey acknowledged that they don’t know feel well-informed about contraception. A full 70 percent said they were “very knowledgeable” about abstinence, while less than half said the same for the pill. Just 21 percent said they knew a lot about the IUD.
That may be because they’re not having conversations about birth control with their doctors. Forty percent of women said they hadn’t received in-depth counseling from their health care professional about birth control, and one in ten said they had questions about contraception they didn’t feel comfortable asking. The group that commissioned the survey hopes the results will help encourage a shift in the way that women and their doctors talk about birth control, particularly as Obamacare’s birth control benefit expands the pool of women who can afford a wide range of contraceptive services.
“These survey findings are especially timely given the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, which enables more women to have access to contraceptive services,” the American College of Nurse Midwives’ president, Ginger Breedlove, noted in a statement. “Women deserve complete and practical information delivered in positive, respectful conversations by an engaging health care professional. If we can create an environment of healthy dialogue and shared decision making, we can help change perceptions so women make educated choices that are best suited to their needs.”