Intimate Inaccuracies: Young Couples Don’t Always Agree About Contraceptive Use

Research BriefSexual & Reproductive HealthNov 21 2016

The national teenage birth rate is now at the lowest level ever recorded. However, the rate remains much higher than in other industrialized nations, and pregnancy among teenagers is too often unplanned. Recent data show that more than three quarters of births to teenagers are unintended. Additionally, half of all births to young women just out of their teen years (aged 20-24) are also unintended.1

It is therefore critical that teenage and unintended pregnancy prevention efforts remain effective and relevant.2 To this end, some pregnancy prevention programs have recently expanded their efforts to more directly target men’s contraceptive decision- making in addition to women’s. This is a difficult thing to measure because it isn’t clear if men report their contraceptive use accurately. They may have full knowledge of their condom use, but know less about their female partners’ contraceptive method. They may also incorrectly assume that their partners use (or don’t use) contraception, particularly hormonal or long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARCs).

In this brief, we use data from a sample of young adults in romantic relationships to assess the “accuracy” of men’s reports of: 1) using any contraception, 2) using hormonal or long-acting reversible contraception (LARC) specifically, and 3) using condoms specifically. We measure this by comparing young men’s reports of contraceptive use the last time they had sex with the reports of their sexual partners. In some cases, men reported using a method when their partner did not, while in others the opposite was found. These discrepancies suggest that pregnancy prevention efforts should focus on increasing awareness and communication about contraceptive use between teen and young adult sexual partners.