Million women turn away from birth control

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The Independent Online
Almost 1 million sexually active women aged 16 to 44 are risking an unplanned pregnancy because they do not use any form of birth control, according to a three-year national survey of contraceptive practices.

The figures show a sharp rise since a 1993 survey, which found 500,000 sexually active-women, including 90,000 teenagers, did not use contraceptives. The new results are 850,000 and 150,000 respectively.

The Health Eduction Authority and the Family Planning Association said yesterday they were "very concerned" at the NOP findings, which come as many local family planning initiatives are under pressure because of financial cutbacks.

Avon Health Authority, for example, is trying to save pounds 150,000 by imposing a cut-off age of 21 at family planning clinics. Women older than this will be referred to their GPs for advice, according to Ruth Grigg of the FPA. "But this is just the age group which needs advice most," she said. "More women in their twenties are having unplanned pregnancies and abortions than teenagers."

Young women also appeared to be ignorant about the comparative dangers of pregnancy and being on the Pill, the survey found. When asked "what carries the greater risk of death, having a baby or being on the pill?", 20 per cent of teenagers wrongly thought having a baby was less dangerous.

Another surprising finding was an increase of 6 per cent in the number of women who were not sexually active, up from 32 per cent to 38 per cent. There is some anecdotal evidence that more are remaining celibate for long periods in between partners, although the survey produced no evidence of this.

One-quarter of the 1,000 women from 16 to 44 who took part in the survey, the fifth in a series funded by the Pill manufacturer Schering Health Care, said they did not use any form of birth control. Of these, 32 per cent were sexually active but were not trying to get pregnant. Extrapolated nationally, this represents more than 850,000 women facing a potential unexpected pregnancy. Within this group, 22 per cent were 16-19, representing almost 150,000 young women nationally. The Pill remains the top choice of contraceptive for women in Britain. About one-third of those who used contraception favoured the Pill - around 4 million nationally. The number had dropped by 1 per cent since 1993. Condoms were the second most popular choice, with 22 per cent, while use of the intra-uterine device and cap remained static or in slight decline, at 4 per cent for the IUD and 1 per cent for the cap.

The survey revealed a reluctance among women to try new methods of contraception. Figures of 1 per cent and less were recorded for the female condom, the hormonal implant and the sponge. Natural forms - the rhythm method and withdrawal - were relied on by 3 per cent.

Carole Graham, a spokeswomen for Schering, told a conference in London yesterday that there was no obvious reason for the increase in the number of women not using contraception when they had sex. "I don't think anybody has the whole answer to why this has happened ... There's still a great 'it won't happen to me' syndrome. Or people rely on the emergency morning- after pill, and so on."