I recently noticed that when a woman announces an “accidental” pregnancy while using some form of contraception it is assumed that she did something wrong that caused the contraception failure. You know the arguments. She must have forgotten to take a pill or took it at the wrong time of day; she didn’t wait long enough after her hormonal injection for it to take effect, etc. I have yet to hear the assumption that a contraception method failed WITHOUT USER ERROR. But yhe fact is, no form of contraception works 100% of the time even when used 100% correctly.
Take a look at this chart found at Option For Sexual Health:
Notice that there are two separate statistics given for each method: “use effectiveness” (actual use which includes user error in the statistic) and “theoretical effectiveness” (all user error is taken out of this statistic). If you take a look at this chart, you’ll notice that none of the methods are 100% accurate even when taking user error out of the equation. A method with high efficacy, such as vasectomy, with a 99.9% theoretical effectiveness rate still results in one pregnancy each year for every 1000 women who use the method without error. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but If you think about how many women of childbearing age worldwide use some of these methods, that error rate can amount to thousands (maybe even millions) of pregnancies each year solely due to method failure NOT user error.
If you look again at the statistics, you’ll notice that for most methods, the difference between the user effectiveness and theoretical effectiveness is substantial. For example, the hormonal birth control pill is 99.7% effective with perfect use and only 92% effective when taking into account average user error. Using these statistics, most pregnancies that occur while the woman is using birth control are in fact the result of user error, but not all. This statistic does support all those negative nancies who assume the woman made an error that caused their contraceptive methods to fail, however, there certainly is no way to tell by looking at a woman if her pregnancy was the result of user error or the result of method failure.
Regardless of whether it’s often correct, what does this mindset that “unintended pregnancies are the result of the woman’s error” say about our society?
First, it attests to the idea that contraception is failure-proof. It’s not. Passing on that myth only results in additional unintended pregnancies. How many times have you heard, “But I was on so-and-so contraception. I used it correctly. How did I get pregnant? What did I do wrong?” I’ve heard it countless times from friends and acquaintances, other young women who were taught that if used correctly, you WILL NOT get pregnant. The truth is, if you have sex, you can get pregnant, regardless of the circumstances. You can do certain things to decrease the probability, but the probability is always there.
(On a side note, I also think that this myth is perpetuated by a lack of understanding of basic math and statistics in our country. If you don’t understand statistics, it’s very difficult to understand research and how it affects you. I am thankful daily that I took A.P. Statistics in high school; otherwise, I would not understand how research studies are done, what the conclusion mean, or whether or not I should put any confidence in them. I understand the importance of sample size, standard deviation, etc. Most schools do not require classes that include this information.)
Second, it puts unfair blame on women when they are only half of the party responsible for the pregnancy (as of yet, I have not heard of an accidental pregnancy in which a man was not involved). Rarely is a man blamed for method failure, although I suppose it’s possible that some people might think, “He must have put the condom on incorrectly.” Or “He should have checked the condom expiration date more carefully.” I’ve never heard this though. Perhaps it was the woman’s “fault”, but it also could have been her partner’s, or simply method failure. Women already receive the blame for so much in our society, no need to heap on more.
I also have to mention that the typical “you must have done something wrong” response to an unintended pregnancy differs greatly from the responses to an unintended pregnancy when it is known that the woman uses Natural Family Planning. If it’s known (or assumed) that a woman uses contraception, it’s assumed that the woman made an error. If it’s known (it’s rarely assumed!) that a woman uses NFP, it’s always the method that’s blamed for failure. Just like any contraceptives, most unexpected NFP pregnancies come from user error. Of course, there are many different methods of NFP under that umbrella term “fertility awareness method” and they all have different efficacy rates, but most are comparable to those of commonly used contraceptives. I don’t want to get into what this says about our society’s view of NFP - I don’t really want to raise my blood pressure at the moment and I think I already wrote enough to get you thinking - but you can come to your own conclusion.
Be honest, what is your first reaction when you hear about an “accidental” pregnancy? What does this say about your views of contraception, sex, and pregnancy? Do you need to consider changing your way of thinking?
About Mandi: Mandi is a Catholic wife and mother in her mid-twenties. She's also a part-time Spanish teacher, Amazing Race addict, novice knitter, and NFP user. You can read about her musings on marriage, motherhood, and more at Messy Wife, Blessed Life.