Advancing Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights
Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health
Volume 44, Number 4, December 2012

Pregnancy Ambivalence and Contraceptive Use Among Young Adults in the United States

By Jenny A. Higgins, Ronna A. Popkin, and John S. Santelli

CONTEXT: Pregnancy ambivalence, or conflicted desire about having a baby, has been associated with decreased contraceptive use and unintended pregnancy. However, prior studies have neither included men nor focused on young adults, even though people in their 20s have the highest rates of unintended pregnancy.

METHODS: Nationally representative data from 2008–2009 were used to examine pregnancy ambivalence and its association with contraceptive practices among 774 respondents who were 18–29 years old and in current sexual relationships. Bivariate and multivariate analyses assessed relationships between pregnancy ambivalence, contraceptive use, gender and other social, demographic and psychosocial variables.

RESULTS: Forty-five percent of respondents exhibited pregnancy ambivalence. The proportion was higher among men than among women (53% vs. 36%), and the difference remained significant in the multivariate analysis (odds ratio, 2.9). Ambivalence was associated with lowered likelihood of contraceptive use, but this relationship was statistically significant only for men: Compared with men with clear intentions to avoid pregnancy, ambivalent men were less likely to have used any method of contraception in the last month (0.4).

CONCLUSIONS: The association between men's pregnancy ambivalence and contraceptive practices suggests that women should not remain the sole targets of pregnancy prevention programs. Further research should explore whether clinical interventions that assess and address pregnancy ambivalence for both women and men could lead to improved contraceptive counseling and use.

DOI: 10.1363/4423612




Jenny A. Higgins is assistant professor, Department of Gender and Women’s Studies, University of Wisconsin– Madison. Ronna A. Popkin is a doctoral student, Department of Sociomedical Sciences, and John S. Santelli is clinical professor, Department of Population and Family Health, both at the Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University, New York.