Contraception: How Ireland Ranks

Paul Nolan

A look at current attitudes towards contraception, and the most popular methods amongst Irish women.

According to a 2014 poll carried out by Behaviour & Attitudes on behalf of Bayer Healthcare, a third of Irish women aged 18-45 were not using contraception. Of those who were using contraception, more than a quarter of women (27%) said they used condoms, with the equivalent number using short-acting hormonal contraception, including the pill.

Overall, in terms of the most recognised form of contraception, the pill was the best known at 95%, followed by condoms (91%); injections (75%); sterilisation (74%); the mini-pill (65%); patches (63%); implants (60%); and intrauterine systems (57%). Another result of note included the fact that one in six women have used emergency contraception, with five percent using it more once. Strangely, a third of women said that accessing emergency contraception did not prompt them to then re-examine their contraceptive needs.

Only one in ten women said they started using hormonal contraception within weeks of beginning a new relationship, rising to 16 per cent within a month.

Seventy-eight per cent said they discussed contraception with their partner, and forty-six per cent claimed to share joint responsibility for it.

There were more interesting results, later in 2014, courtesy of the UN Population Fund’s annual State of World Population report. It more or less confirmed the results of the Behaviour & Attitudes poll, finding that Ireland has one of the lowest rates of contraceptive use in the EU. Meanwhile, births to teenage mothers remain among the highest. The UN report also found that just 67 percent of Irish women aged 15-49 use some form of contraception, a statistic that puts Ireland fourth lowest for contraceptive use out of the 28 EU member states.

Clearly there is something awry.

Our nearest neighbour, Britain, had the highest rate, with 80% of women using what is classed as a modern form of contraception, and 94% of women saying that their contraceptive needs are being met. In Ireland, meanwhile, the proportion using a modern form of contraception is as low as 63%, with 86% of women saying their demand for contraceptives is being met. Again, Ireland also has a relatively high number of births to mothers aged 15-19, with 14 per thousand in this group every year, the tenth highest in the EU. Bulgaria has the highest rate with 42 births per thousand girls annually and Cyprus has the lowest with four.

Meanwhile, two in-depth studies on sexuality, contraception and unplanned pregnancy by the Crisis Pregnancy Agency (ICCP reports) confirmed what campaigners know: that sexually active young Irish adults have a strong tendency for sexual risk-taking and poor levels of fertility knowledge. These are significant contributory factors to the number of crisis pregnancies in Ireland.

Predictably, the study also confirmed that that the vast majority of young people (aged 18 – 25) are sexually active. However, risk-taking was highest among the same group, who, according to the ICCP survey, were less likely to consistently use contraception than other age groups. According to the agency’s chairperson, Olive Braiden, “Fear of being labelled as promiscuous is leading Irish women to risk unplanned pregnancy rather than protect themselves.”

It is a shocking thought.

The Agency’s second research report revealed a relatively low level of knowledge among women about their fertility. The authors of the research described this as ‘profoundly worrying’. Nearly half of the younger women surveyed (18 – 25) could not identify when they are most fertile – and therefore most at risk of becoming pregnant.

According to the authors, sex education in Irish schools and by parents is “inadequate and too biological, too narrow and too late.” They went on to conclude that there is a need for a public health campaign to provide positive messages and information on both contraception and Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI). The core message of any campaign has to be that consistent, planned use of contraception is the best way to avoid a crisis pregnancy. And the time to start is now...

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