Just Because You’re On the Pill, Doesn’t Mean You Won’t Get Pregnant

Written by yvonnethornton on May 28th, 2012

With contraception so much in the news lately, it seems that we have heard all there is to say about it.  A recent study regarding birth control though, has something quite different to say that definitely deserves our attention.  It’s evident from the attention that political contraceptive debates received that there are a lot of women in the US who take the pill or some other form of birth control.  According to the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology though, many of those women wrongly assume that their contraception is infallible.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, 99% of women of reproductive age who have had sex use contraception.  That’s a lot of women, but Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis found that a shocking 45% of those women believe that contraception can prevent pregnancy 100% of the time.  With so many people taking birth control under this false assumption, it’s obvious there’s a need for education and media exposure.  While the pill, which is the most popular form of contraception, is mostly successful at preventing pregnancy, it can indeed fail between 2%-9% of the time.  And that’s the failure rate if you remember to take it every single day.  The failure rate can increase when women miss pills, are in their first month of taking the pill, switching dosages, or taking medications like antibiotics, migraine medications, or antidepressants.  Condoms have an even bigger failure rate of 15%-24%. This is why it’s so important for women to discuss their birth control options with their physician, and that discussion should include how effective each option is.  The rates of contraception failure with respect to perfect use and average use are outlined in my health book, Inside Information for Women.  Hopefully, that chapter will give you a better understanding of the types of contraception offered, their effectiveness and their applicability to your lifestyle.

This information shouldn’t make anyone panic, because as a whole, birth control is fairly effective, especially when compared to not using any contraception at all, which has a failure rate is 85%! However, knowing more about failure rates should make people aware of the actual risk involved in being sexually active, even while taking birth control.  This information probably won’t cause people to think again before having sex, and it may not prevent unintended pregnancies.  At the very least though, it gives parents like me yet another reason to teach our children that sexual activity does have consequences and is better saved for a time in our lives when we are ready to be responsible for our actions.


– Yvonne S. Thornton, M. D., M. P. H.


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