A third of women in UK who have an unintended pregnancy blame contraceptive failure

BMJ 2009; 339 doi: (Published 22 July 2009) Cite this as: BMJ 2009;339:b2975
  1. Daniel Henderson
  1. 1BMJ

    Incorrect and inconsistent use of the pill and the male condom are the main reasons why women in the United Kingdom have unintended pregnancies, a leading sexual health charity says.

    Marie Stopes International, a UK provider of sexual health and reproductive services, says that 34% of women who had an unintended pregnancy reported that their chosen contraceptive failed because of technical difficulties or problems in the method, such as that “the condom broke or slipped off.” And incorrect use—usually failure to take the oral contraceptive pill consistently—accounted for 13% of these pregnancies, its report, The Condom Broke, says.

    At the launch of the report Louise Bury, research manager for Marie Stopes, said that “half of all pregnancies are unintended, with 22% being aborted.” The charity’s research shows that 22% of women who had an unintended pregnancy do not use regular contraception and that more than a third admitted not using contraception during the intercourse that led to an unintended pregnancy.

    However, most women questioned did not know why their contraception had failed. For this reason Marie Stopes is calling for an increase in the use of long acting reversible contraceptives. These include intrauterine systems such as the Mirena coil, intrauterine devices, and implants. At the briefing the charity said access to such contraceptives needs to be increased, such as through training of healthcare professionals and educating women about the devices.

    The study involved 1964 women aged 15 to 49 who had booked an appointment for abortion services with Marie Stopes in summer 2008. The women completed a questionnaire by telephone.

    Gillian Merron, the new minister for public health, announced that the government plans to launch a “contraceptive choices campaign, which will include incentives for GPs to give better contraceptive advice.” She said that the campaign will aim to improve advice from abortion providers regarding contraception, something that Marie Stopes has identified as an “urgent need.”

    The charity has also called for greater “access to information about contraception,” through various means, such as the school curriculum, television, and radio. Earlier this month the Advertising Standards Authority rejected more than 100 complaints regarding the advertising campaign for the emergency contraceptive Levonelle. Viewers had complained that the cartoon style advertisement trivialised sex and could encourage promiscuity.

    Marie Stopes’ survey found that 95% of the women believed that contraceptives such as Levonelle should be advertised on television and radio.


    Cite this as: BMJ 2009;339:b2975


    • For a copy of the report telephone Emily James on 020 7034 2307 or email her at emily.james{at}

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