Women aged 18–29 have higher rates of unintended pregnancy than any other age-group. Information is needed to understand what characteristics are associated with risky contraceptive use practices among this population and to develop new strategies for reducing these women's risk of unintended pregnancy.
Data related to unintended pregnancy risk were collected from a nationally representative sample of 1,800 unmarried women and men aged 18–29 surveyed by telephone in 2009. Among those at risk of unintended pregnancy, multiple logistic regression was used to assess associations between contraceptive knowledge, norms and attitudes and selected risky contraceptive behaviors.
More than half of young men and a quarter of young women received low scores on contraceptive knowledge, and six in 10 underestimated the effectiveness of oral contraceptives. Among women, for each correct response on a contraceptive knowledge scale, the odds of expecting to have unprotected sex in the next three months decreased by 9%, of currently using a hormonal or long-acting reversible method increased by 17%, and of using no method decreased by 17%. Fear of side effects, norms and attitudes that favor nonmarital pregnancy or undervalue the importance of contraception, pregnancy ambivalence and mistrust of government's role in promoting contraception were also associated with one or more risky contraceptive use behaviors.
Programs to increase young adults’ knowledge about contraceptive methods and use are urgently needed. Given the demonstrated link between method knowledge and contraceptive behaviors, such programs may be useful in addressing risky behavior in this population.
Jennifer J. Frost and Laura Duberstein Lindberg are senior research associates, and Lawrence B. Finer is director of domestic research, all at the Guttmacher Institute, New York.