What To Do When Birth Control Fails

What to Know About Contraceptive Failure

unhappy woman with pregnancy test
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You've probably heard that unplanned pregnancies sometimes happen even when protection is used. But would you believe that 53 percent of unplanned pregnancies occur in women who are using contraceptives? Here's what you need to know about contraceptive failure for various methods.

Typical Contraceptive Failure Rates

When choosing a method of birth control, women often consider the published success and failure rates for the method they are considering.

However, these rates are based on "perfect use" by women, meaning using the method exactly as prescribed every single time you have sex. But let's face it, mistakes happen. When you consider the failure rates for a given method of birth control based on "typical use," they're actually higher than you might expect.

  • Implants and injectables: 2-4 percent failure rate with typical use
  • Oral contraceptives: 9 percent failure rate with typical use
  • Diaphragm and cervical cap: 13 percent failure rate with typical use
  • Male condom: 15 percent failure rate with typical use
  • Periodic abstinence: 22 percent failure with typical use
  • Withdrawal: 26 percent failure with typical use
  • Spermicides: 28 percent failure with typical use

Why Does Contraception Fail?

The reasons for contraceptive failure are complex and vary according to method. Oral contraceptives may fail if a woman forgets to take them every day at the same time or if two or more pills are missed during a cycle and an alternative method of birth control is not used.

 Diaphragms and cervical caps can be moved out of place by the penis thrusting against the cervix. Condoms can break and/or semen can leak from them. Periodic abstinence, or natural family planning, can fail if a woman does not accurately predict her fertile period, and IUDs can be dislodged. Withdrawal can fail if pre-ejaculatory semen enters the cervix or if the man is unable to withdraw his penis before ejaculation.

Tips for Effective Contraception

Want to lower your risk for unplanned pregnancy? Follow these tips to lower your risk of contraceptive failure:

  • Practice your chosen birth control method consistently.
  • Carefully follow instructions for the use of your birth control method.
  • Use alternative method of contraception such as a condom, if you forget two or more birth control pills during your cycle.
  • Certain antibiotics and other drugs can reduce the effectiveness of oral contraceptives. Ask your pharmacist if this is a concern for you whenever you fill a prescription.
  • Take oral contraceptives at the same time each day.
  • Using a condom and spermicide with a diaphragm or cervical cap during your fertile period can result in almost 100 percent contraceptive success.
  • If you use an IUD, check for the string extending from your cervix monthly, if you can't feel it use alternative contraception and call your physician.
  • Consider emergency contraceptives after unprotected sex.
  • Contact your healthcare provider if you have any questions about the use of your birth control method. Clearly understanding the proper use of your contraceptive will increase your chance of successful pregnancy prevention.