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Dawn Stacey M.Ed, LMHC

What Do Contraception Failure Rates Really Mean?

By August 13, 2013

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It seems that many of you are enjoying the newer feature on my site -- Your Birth Control Questions... Answered. I am proud that the number of questions on this list keeps growing due to all of your email submissions. Hopefully, you are finally finding the answers you are seeking!

I received the following question from a worried reader who that desperately needed an accurate answer,

"When they say the failure rate when 100 couples have sex regularly for a year is 1% or 3%, how much sex is it assumed the couples are having? Do these rates refer to the couple having sex about 100 times a year? I've seen a lot of charts and diagrams comparing the effectiveness of different birth control methods but still can't figure it out fully."

I can understand this confusion as interpreting failure and effectiveness rates can be somewhat complicated if you don't know what these numbers mean or the context to evaluate them. When it comes to making sense out of these rates, the first thing to understand is that they refer to the number of people using a given contraceptive method, not the number of times a person uses that method without getting pregnant.

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