Many Beninese women who want to avoid pregnancy are not using a modern contraceptive method, according to a new study released today by the Guttmacher Institute and the Association Béninoise pour le Marketing Social et la Communication pour la Santé, a network member of Population Services International. The researchers found that, as of 2012, one-third of married women and half of all sexually active unmarried women have an unmet need for contraception. These levels represent a substantial increase since 2006, when 27% of married women and 35% of unmarried sexually active women experienced unmet need.

The researchers analyzed data from the 2006 and 2011–2012 Demographic and Health Surveys. They found that modern contraceptive use in Benin is low: Only 14% of women use any contraceptive method, and 9% use a modern method.

Women give a variety of reasons for not using contraceptives, and these reasons vary by subgroup. Overall, fear of side effects/health concerns and opposition to contraception are the main reasons reported for not using a modern method. Among unmarried women, however, not being married is the most common reason for nonuse. Few women overall cite lack of access as a reason for not using a contraceptive method, but this remains a barrier to use for about a tenth of rural women and women from poorer households.

“Expanding comprehensive family planning counseling, including information on possible side effects, and improving access to a range of modern contraceptive methods is critical to addressing the large unmet need in the country,” says Sophia Chae, senior research scientist at the Guttmacher Institute and lead author of the study. “Increased efforts should also be made to encourage partners to communicate about family planning and to act on those discussions.”

The government has made it a national priority to increase modern contraceptive use to 20% by 2018. Encouraging contraceptive use will help women and couples achieve their ideal family size. On average, women in Benin have one more child than they desire. Moreover, unplanned births are fairly common in the country: Between 2007 and 2012, 19% of births were unplanned.

Since women’s reasons for not using modern contraceptives differ by economic and marital status, the researchers advise that in order for the government to reach its goal, the barriers that specific groups of women face need to be addressed.

Previous Guttmacher research has shown that reducing the unmet need for modern contraception in the developing world has the potential to allow women to enjoy increased productivity and earnings, as well as higher household savings. Successfully fulfilling Beninese women’s unmet need for contraception can also help women and couples achieve their desired family size, and, ultimately, promote healthier lives.

The new report, “Barriers to Women’s Contraceptive Use in Benin,” by Sophia Chae et al. is available online.

This publication was supported by a subgrant from Population Services International under the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Choices and Opportunities Fund.