Adolescent Women’s Contraceptive Use Is Less Consistent Than That of Adult Women, with a Much Higher Failure Rate

New Analysis Compares Evidence from More Than 40 Countries

A new study of women’s contraceptive use around the world finds that sexually active 15–19-year-olds are more likely than their 20–49-year-old counterparts to use contraceptives inconsistently and, on average, experience a 25% higher rate of contraceptive failure.

The study’s authors, Ann K. Blanc of EngenderHealth et al., believe that compared with adult women, adolescent women face more obstacles to consistent contraceptive use—including feeling embarrassed about seeking out contraceptives, not being able to afford them and not knowing how to use them correctly—and may be more likely to abandon a method and try another if they experience side effects, which often leads to gaps in contraceptive use. The authors also note that, in comparison with adult women, adolescents tend to use methods with higher failure rates, to use methods less effectively and to be more fertile—all factors that increase the risk of unintended pregnancy.

Despite the barriers they may face in using contraceptives consistently, roughly 25% of sexually active young women had used a method by age 19, with many countries experiencing substantial increases over the last few decades. Blanc and colleagues observe that the rising proportion of young women practicing contraception, coupled with global trends toward staying in school longer and delaying childbearing, have created a greater demand for comprehensive contraceptive services. The authors believe that meeting the contraceptive needs of young people will only become harder as the global population of adolescents increases. They conclude that meeting this expanded need will require greater investments in improving the quality of health systems, as well as in instituting targeted programs and policies aimed at increasing young people’s knowledge of and access to contraceptive services.

The study, "Patterns and Trends in Adolescents’ Contraceptive Use and Discontinuation in Developing Countries and Comparisons with Adult Women," analyzed nationally representative surveys conducted between 1986 and 2006 for more than 40 developing countries. It appears in the June 2009 issue of International Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health.