Young women who delay starting contraception when they start sexual activity are at increased risk of unwanted pregnancy, according to data from a cross-sectional study of more than 26,000 women in the United States.
Unintended pregnancy in the United States is associated with delayed prenatal care, premature birth, and low birth weight and remains more common among African American and Hispanic women than among white women, and it also is more common among low-income women than among high income women, wrote Mara E. Murray Horwitz, MD, of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Institute in Boston and her colleagues.
“Reducing unintended pregnancy and the associated socioeconomic disparities is a national public health priority,” they wrote.
In a study published in, the researchers reviewed data from four cycles of the National Survey of Family Growth between 2002 and 2015. They examined self-reported responses from 26,359 women aged 15-44 years with sexual debuts during 1970-2014, including the dates of sexual debut, initiation of contraceptives, and rates of unwanted pregnancy. Timely contraceptive initiation was defined as use within a month of starting sexual activity.
Overall, one in five women reported delayed initiation of contraception. This delay was significantly associated with an increased unwanted pregnancy risk within 3 months of starting sexual activity, compared with timely use of contraception (adjusted risk ratio, 3.7). The average age of sexual debut was 17 years.
When the researchers examined subgroups, they found that one in four respondents who were African American, Hispanic, or low income reported delayed contraceptive initiation.
No association with unwanted pregnancy was found between effective versus less effective contraception methods. Timely contraceptive use increased during the study period from less than 10% in the 1970s to more than 25% in the 2000s, but condoms accounted for most of this increase. Use of other methods including long-acting reversible and short-acting hormonal options was low, especially among African American, Hispanic, and low-income women, Dr. Murray Horwitz and her colleagues noted.
The study was limited by several factors including the use of self-reports, lack of data on the exact start of contraceptive initiation, and the lack of association between contraceptive method and unwanted pregnancy, the researchers noted. However, the findings suggest that clinicians can help by intervening with young patients and educating them about early adoption of pregnancy prevention strategies.
The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health; Dr. Murray Horwitz was supported by an award from the NIH and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Institute. Another researcher received support from Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Institute to provide mentorship for the study. The remaining researcher had no relevant financial disclosures.
SOURCE: Murray Horwitz M et al.