Illustrated By Isabelle Rancier.
We tend to think of unplanned pregnancy as the result of failure to use birth control — rather than failure of birth control itself. (And, at least some of the cultural judgment of unplanned pregnancy arises from the perception that those parents are reckless or irresponsible.) At the same time, we know that using one of the dozens of contraceptive methods available doesn’t ensure pregnancy won’t occur.
We’ve all heard the signature adage of sex education in schools: “The only 100%-effective method of birth control is abstinence." But, some methods — for example, hormonal implants or IUDs — have a pretty-damn-close-to-perfect track record. Other methods, such as spermicides or withdrawal? Not so successful. In The New York Times’ “Sunday Review” this past weekend, Gregor Aisch and Bill Marsh unveiled an interactive series of graphs that illustrate the effectiveness of each of 15 different methods of birth control — from condoms, to the pill, to sterilization. These graphs plot women's time on a given birth control method against the number of women per 100 who will have an unplanned pregnancy while using that method.
Take one of America's most popular forms of BC as an example: In the pill chart, we see that nine women in every 100 who use the pill can be expected to have an unplanned pregnancy within a year of beginning the method and using it “typically” — that is, at average levels of correctness and consistency. Meanwhile, the odds of having an unplanned pregnancy within the first year of using the pill "perfectly" are less than one in 100. (Big ups to the chart’s creators for recognizing that the instructions on the box don’t always translate to reality; so often, the failure-rate statistics that BC manufacturers provide are based on what would happen in an ideal world — one without human error.)
After 10 years of “typical” pill use, 61 in 100 users can expect to have an unplanned pregnancy, compared with three in 100 who have used the pill “perfectly.” That’s because opportunities for error — either on the part of birth control methods or the humans who use them — occur again and again over time. To discover the likelihood that your birth control method will fail, click through to the interactive chart.