Contraceptive Evidence: Questions and Answers

  • This report also in French

(August 2013) Twenty-five years ago, the Population Reference Bureau published Contraceptive Safety: Rumors and Realities to provide policymakers, program managers, and service providers with accurate information on the risks and benefits of contraceptive methods. In 1998, PRB updated the resource to include the latest scientific research on all available methods and to add other methods, such as the female condom and emergency contraceptive pills.

Nevertheless, rumors and incomplete information continue to spread and inhibit clients from making an informed choice and accessing a contraceptive method that works for them. It is the goal of this newest resource, Contraceptive Evidence: Questions and Answers, to help women and men choose a method based on scientific evidence rather than rumors and to assist policymakers, program managers, and providers in filling those needs.

Need for Family Planning Services

There are still 222 million women who have an unmet need for modern contraception, meaning they do not want to become pregnant for two years or more but are not using a modern contraceptive method.

There are several reasons for this unmet need, including:

  • Fear of side effects—perceived and real.
  • Limited knowledge about methods.
  • Weak health systems that impede access to contraceptive methods.
  • Laws that require a husband’s consent to seek family planning services.
  • Reliance on breastfeeding to prevent another pregnancy.
  • Opposition to family planning by a partner or family members.
  • Infrequent sexual intercourse.

In addition, health providers can inadvertently play a negative role by giving incorrect information to clients. By further perpetuating myths and rumors about family planning, providers may undermine efforts to help women achieve their reproductive goals. Better quality of care, including better contraceptive counseling, information, and public education, is a key part of the solution to reducing unmet need for family planning.

Family planning has a multitude of health, social, and economic benefits for women and their families, including improving maternal and infant health, reducing unintended pregnancies and unsafe abortions, and preventing the spread of HIV.

As their educational and employment opportunities improve, women are more likely to use family planning. At the same time, by using family planning, women are able to stay in school longer and participate more in the labor force. Family planning contributes to reducing malnutrition and improving child survival by managing family size and spacing of births.

Mia Foreman is a policy analyst at the Population Reference Bureau. Jeff Spieler is a senior technical adviser for Science and Technology in the Office of Population and Reproductive Health within the Bureau of Global Health at the U.S. Agency for International Development.