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Can you trust your birth control? Women overestimating efficacy says survey

Last Updated Oct 7, 2019 at 6:13 pm MST

FILE - In this Aug. 26, 2016, file photo, a one-month dosage of hormonal birth control pills is displayed. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)

One-third of women are overestimating birth control effectiveness

Doctor says new Bayer research not surprising

NEW MARKET, Ont.  – One of the most common forms of birth control, the pill, has been available in Canada for over 50 years. But, according to a recent Bayer study, women are still making mistakes when it comes to their contraception.

Over the summer, the pharmaceutical company surveyed 500 Canadian women aged 18 to 45 about their familiarity and understanding of contraceptive methods and their efficacy.

RELATED: It’s a long story: The history of birth control in Canada

Preliminary results indicate one-third of those women were found to be overestimating how effective their chosen form of birth control method is. The full details of the study haven’t been released yet.

“I can’t tell you the number of patients [in my practice] who are shocked and amazed to hear about the efficacy–or shall we say lack of efficacy–of some contraception options,” said Dr. Kristina Dervaitis. A significant portion of Dervaitis’ practice in Ontario is dedicated to contraception counseling.

Bayer survey shows one in three women are overestimating the efficacy of their birth control. This graph is based on the survey conducted on women aged 18-45, July 3 – July 8, 2019. (CREDIT: Provided by Bayer)

“The failure rate of condoms alone, in terms of typical use, is about 18 per cent in terms of chance of pregnancy. The birth control pill, in terms of typical use, real-world use of the pill, the chance of pregnancy is as high as nine per cent. Compare that to the intrauterine contraception which has a less than one per cent chance of pregnancy,” she said.

“That Bayer study certainly resonates with me in terms of what I am seeing day-to-day in the office.”

Dervaitis says patients are human beings and forget things, like needing to take a daily pill, which is why the pill becomes so much less effective in what she calls “real-world use”. So, then, why is the pill one of the most commonly used form of birth control?

Women probably aren’t fully aware of their options, says Dervaitis. And to add to that, she expects general practitioners might not be completely educated on, or be able to provide, all the options.

Awareness, Education, and Accessibility

When it comes to education, patients rely more on word-of-mouth or go to online resources, which are perhaps not the most reliable, according to Dervaitis.

“We want patients to educate themselves… about their options and to go to reputable sources in addition to their health care provider.” Dervaitis said seeing how more people are turning to online resources and YouTube as an information source, she created a vlog for birth control education.

She also points to a handful of resources on the Society of OBGYNs of Canada’s (SOGC) website.

Dervaitis also says physicians may not be as up to date on their knowledge as they could be. She said she and other birth control experts are working to dispell myths about birth control–specifically IUC (intrauterine contraception) in her case–in front line health care workers.

RELATED: The illusion of choice: Canadian women stonewalled when it comes to reproductive rights

“Both the Society of OBGYNs of Canada and the Canadian Paediatric Society recommend [IUDs] as first-line birth control,” not the pill, said Dervaitis, due simply to how much more effective it is in a real-world situation.

Some doctor’s offices may not be equipped to provide certain forms of birth control, like the IUD, because it needs to be inserted. Dervaitis says doctors would need to provide referrals if they can’t insert the IUD themselves, and suspects it could be why, at least in part, doctors and patients circle back to the pill.

“We, as physicians, are trying harder and harder to make sure that access to clinics for IUC insertion isn’t a barrier.”

With over half of pregnancies in Canada being unplanned, Dervaitis encourages women who are not trying to conceive to talk to their doctors about which birth control options work best for their lifestyle.


Read more from the Elephant in the Womb reproductive rights series here