CDC study: Fear of failure drives use of emergency contraception

March 1, 2013

Having unprotected sex is not the only impetus for use of emergency contraception (EC) among US women of reproductive age, according to data from a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Nearly half the women represented in the National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG) said they turned to EC because of fear of contraceptive failure.

Having unprotected sex is not the only impetus for use of emergency contraception (EC) among US women of reproductive age, according to data from a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Nearly half the women represented in the National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG) said they turned to EC because of fear of contraceptive failure.

Published by the National Center for Health Statistics, the NSFG includes data spanning from 2006 to 2010. The EC report provides population-level information about lifetime and recent use of EC among US sexually experienced women aged 15 to 44. Although a copper intrauterine device can be used for EC, the NSFG data focus only on EC pills.

Overall, 11% of the women surveyed (5.8 million) had used EC pills, up from 4.2% in 2002 and less than 1% in 1995. Of that group, 59% had used the pills once, 24% had used them twice, and 17% had used EC 3 or more times.

Among other key findings from the NSFG:

  • Young adult women aged 20 to 24 were most likely to have ever used EC; about 1 in 4 (23%) had done so.

  • Almost 1 in 5 never-married women (19%), 1 in 7 cohabiting women (14%), and 1 in 20 currently or formerly married women (5.7%) had ever used EC.

  • About 1 in 2 women reported using EC because of fear of method failure (45%) and about 1 in 2 reported use because they had unprotected sex (49%).

Looking further at the rationale for EC use, the researchers noted that women aged 30 to 44 were more likely to cite fear of contraception failure than were those aged 15 to 19 (52% vs 34%). Women with a bachelor’s degree or higher (58%) and who were non-Hispanic whites (53%) also were more likely to turn to EC because of concerns about contraception efficacy than non-Hispanic black (27%) and Hispanic women (33%) and those with less than a high school education (26%).

Marital status, too, seemed to have an impact on use of EC. Nineteen percent of never-married women had ever used the pills, compared with 14% of those who were cohabiting and 5.7% of women who were currently or formerly married.

Daniels K, Jones J, Abma J. Use of emergency contraception among women aged 15-44: United States, 2006-2010. NCHS data brief, no 112. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics; 2013.