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Birth Control Around the World

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Written by vhigueras
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Women in America are fortunate to have access to birth control options, from picking up free male condoms at Planned Parenthood health centers to many birth control options covered by health insurance. (Although, for women in contraceptive deserts access isn’t as easy as it should be).

And US women take advantage of that access: According to the Guttmacher Institute, about 60 percent of all women of reproductive age in the U.S. are using some form of birth control. The most commonly used methods in America? The pill, followed by female sterilization.

But what about the rest of the world? Use of modern contraceptives globally has risen slightly or mostly stayed the same between 1990 to 2015. In Africa it went from 23 to 28 percent, in Asia it has slightly increased from 60 to 61 percent, and in Latin America and the Caribbean, it has remained stable at 66 percent. Of the roughly 1.6 billion women of reproductive age (15–49) living in developing regions, just about half want to avoid a pregnancy but only three-quarters of that group (671 million) use modern contraceptives — meaning there’s work to do to improve birth control access in the developing world.

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Let’s take a look at which birth control methods women around the world reply on for pregnancy protection:

Where is the pill popular?

In the U.S., approximately 12.6 percent of women ages 15 to 44 reported taking birth control pills in the previous month, and about 28% of women who use birth control choose the pill, more than used any other birth control method. But in other countries the pill is even more popular. In Morocco and Portugal, nearly half (48%) of women on birth control choose the pill, followed by IUDs in Mexico (at a distant 4%) and male condoms in Portugal (9%). In Brazil the pill was the most common form of birth control (30%), followed by the male condom (10%).

Which countries rely on IUDs for birth control?

If you’re talking to American millennial women about their birth control of choice, it may seem like more of your friends are relying on intrauterine devices (IUDs) than they were a few years ago. That’s because these FDA-approved implants have gotten safer, are effective for three to 10 years, and are 99 percent effective at preventing pregnancy. Women like that they don’t have to think about their birth control method daily, and, if they decide they want to become pregnant, they can have the copper or hormonal IUD removed. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation website, women with children report higher use of IUDs, and about 10 percent of women ages 15 to 44 use IUDs, as of 2013 data. It’s highest among women ages 25 to 34, which is 50 percent higher than the use rate among women ages 20 to 24. In 2014, about 14% of women using a contraceptive relied on a long-acting reversible contraceptive method, or LARC (12% used the IUD and 3% used the implant).

The countries with the highest IUD prevalence are the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, where a full 74% of women choose an IUD, Uzbekistan, where 37% of womeb use an IUD, and Turkmenistan, where 44% do so.

Which countries rely on condoms for birth control?

In the U.S., approximately 8.9 percent of women in the 15 to 44 age range reported using male condoms for birth control in the previous month in a 2014 survey. That’s significantly less than in some other countries, where condoms are the go-to birth control. In Hong Kong, condoms are the most commonly used birth control in the most recent survey (at 52%), and in Greece, condoms are the most common contraceptive, at 29%.

Which countries rely on the withdrawal method? 

In the U.S., approximately 5 percent of women in the 15 to 44 age range reported using the withdrawal method as birth control in the previous month, in a 2014 survey. Though it’s said that “if done correctly” it can be very effective–as effective as condoms according to some research–study researchers and experts acknowledge how challenging it can be to do it perfectly every time. It’s better than nothing, but won’t protect against STDs. Where do couples rely on withdrawal? In Albania, where in 2017-2018, this was the most common method of birth control (42%), and Serbia, where they use withdrawal (35%), with the male condom (12%) placing second as the next most popular method.

Can fertility-tracking apps replace other birth control?

The smartphone app Natural Cycles is the first app that’s been certified as a form of contraception in Europe. To get the certification, the app repeatedly demonstrated that it improves the effectiveness of traditional planning methods in a series of clinical studies. The FDA also recently approved the app as a method of contraception in the U.S. To use it, the woman uses the Natural Cycles thermometer to take her temperature in the morning, inputs her temperature reading into the app, and is told whether it’s a red day (she should use protection) or a green day (not fertile—no need to use protection).  The user can also switch to “Plan a Pregnancy” mode if she is trying to conceive.

A recent study looked at how a social media marketing campaign about a fertility awareness app could help women with their reproductive goals. The app developer advertised their CycleBeads fertility-tracking app to women in Africa and over 350,000 women downloaded the app. Among the users in Egypt, Ghana, India, Jordan, Kenya, Nigeria, and Rwanda surveyed, the developers found that 39% used the app to prevent pregnancy, 38% to plan a pregnancy, and 21% were tracking their cycles.

Among the users preventing pregnancy, 64 percent of women had not used a family planning method in the three months before downloading the app. This suggests that fertility awareness-based apps may have the potential to address an unmet need. These apps let you know when you are most fertile so you should abstain from sex on those days or use another form of birth control if you’re trying to avoid pregnancy. Having this information can be helpful for women but isn’t the most effective form of birth control.

What did you think about how women around the world rely on different forms of birth control? Were you surprised by some stats? Share this article on social media along with your thoughts.

About the Author

Diana Kelly Levey is a freelance journalist who has written for Real Simple, Reader’s Digest, Prevention, Bloomberg Businessweek, and Men’s Health, among other national publications. She is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors and a freelance writing course instructor on Teachable.


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