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What Leads to Contraceptive Failure?


Updated June 03, 2011

Question: What Leads to Contraceptive Failure?
Unintended pregnancy is a significant concern affecting thousands of people each year. According to a study published in Family Planning Perspectives, 50% of all the pregnancies in the United States were unintended; this includes those conceptions that resulted in abortions, miscarriages or live births. Surprisingly, half of the women faced with these unplanned pregnancies were using contraception during the month that they conceived. Because of these high numbers, it is vital that we know the main reasons for contraceptive failure as well as some of the risk factors associated with it.

Contraceptive Failure Varies by Method

Your contraceptive method of choice greatly impacts your ability to avoid an unintended pregnancy. Contraceptive failure can result from a natural malfunction of the birth control method itself. Research has shown that the use of longer acting methods, which require less for the individual to do, tend to help minimize the chances for user error. These methods (like Depo Provera injections, Implanon implants, ParaGard and Mirena IUDs and sterilization) result in the lowest "typical user" rate of contraceptive failure.

When comparing contraceptive effectiveness,

  • Typical use refers to failure rates for women who do not consistently or always correctly use their birth control

  • Perfect use refers to failure rates for those whose use is consistent and always correct

Demographics Play a Role in Contraceptive Failure

Marriage status:
  • 17% of unmarried, cohabiting women experienced contraceptive failure during the first year of contraceptive use.
  • 16% of adolescents (aged 19 or under) and 13% of women aged 20 - 24 experienced birth control failure during the first year of use.
  • Contraceptive failure rates are higher for low-income women.
  • Those with incomes below 200% of the federal poverty level are almost two times more likely to experience birth control failure than their higher income counterparts.

Some contraceptive methods are more prone to failure than others.


Trierweiler, K. (2000)."Contraceptive Failure: How Clinicians Can Promote Effective Contraceptive Practice". Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

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