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(April 2008) The use of contraception varies widely around the world, both in terms of total use and the types of methods used. In many countries, women and couples rely largely on one or two contraceptive methods, because of government policies, the way that national family planning programs have evolved, and cultural or social preferences.

The Population Reference Bureau’s policy brief, Ensuring a Wide Range of Family Planning Choices, describes contraceptives used around the world, their cost, and what can be done to increase the mix and their availability. Understanding why people prefer some contraceptive methods over others can be useful for strengthening family planning programs. Having a broad range of methods available is a key element of the quality of family planning services and raises the overall level of contraceptive use.1 Family planning programs ideally should offer choices of methods for all stages of people’s reproductive lives, so that they can have the number of children they want, when they want them. Lori Ashford, technical director for policy information at the Population Reference Bureau, wrote the brief.

A Choice of Methods Is Important

The ability to decide freely and responsibly the number and spacing of one’s children is recognized internationally as a human right.2 There is no “best” method of family planning, because women and couples may prefer different methods—and may change their preferences over time—according to their individual circumstances. Having choices and balanced information increases the likelihood that women and couples will choose a method, use it effectively, and avoid unintended pregnancies.3

Making a wide range of methods available improves quality of care in a way that benefits family planning programs. First, offering more choices increases the number of contraceptive users, which can increase the cost-effectiveness of services.4 Second, some inexpensive methods are underused simply because people aren’t familiar with them. Increasing the use of these methods can lower service costs.

Funding for this policy brief was provided by the U.S. Agency for International Development.


  1. John Ross et al., “Contraceptive Method Choice in Developing Countries,” International Family Planning Perspectives 28, no. 1 (2001): 32-40; and Tara M. Sullivan et al., “Skewed Contraceptive Method Mix: Why it Happens, Why it Matters,” Journal of Biosocial Science 38, no. 4 (2006): 501-21.
  2. United Nations, Proclamation of Teheran, Final Act of the International Conference on Human Rights (1968); and Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development, accessed online at www.unfpa.org/icpd/, on Jan. 14, 2008.
  3. Sit Pariani, David M. Peer, and Maurice D. Van Arsdol, “Does Choice Make a Difference to Contraceptive Use? Evidence From East Java,” Studies in Family Planning 22, no. 6 (1991): 384-90. 
  4. Ross et al., “Contraceptive Method Choice in Developing Countries”; and Ruth Levine et al., “Contraception,” in Disease Control Priorities in Developing Countries, 2d ed., ed. Dean T. Jamison et al. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006): 1193-1209.