Contraceptive use in European women: a research survey on contemporary behaviour

S. O. Skouby

Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Frederiksberg Hospital, Copenhagen, Denmark

The choice of currently available contraceptive methods has increased considerably in recent years, offering women of reproductive age a variety of different methods dependent on their needs and lifestyle. In order to determine the pattern of use of current methods in contraception, a survey was conducted in a large population of women drawn from five European countries (France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom).

More than 12,000 randomly selected women, aged 1549 years, were interviewed using a standardized questionnaire which addressed the use of current methods of contraception. The responses were analysed for the total study population, and, where appropriate, by country and age.

An oral contraceptive was confirmed as the most widely used method of contraception for women in the European study population, with an estimated 22 million users in the five countries. Women using an oral contraceptive reported very high levels of satisfaction (>90%). Male and female sterilization were the main methods of contraception in women aged 40 years and older. One-half of the women had undergone their sterilization before the age of 35 years. More than 50% of the women who had undergone sterilization had not been adequately informed and counselled about alternative reversible contraceptive options. No method of contraception was being used currently by 23% of the European study population, and unreliable methods of contraception (including cap/diaphragm, chemical, and natural and withdrawal methods) were being used by a further 6% of the population. Although valid reasons (e.g. not in a sexual relationship, wish to become pregnant) were given by many women who were not using contraception, there still remains a large number of women who need counselling regarding the importance of using reliable contraceptive methods. The number of women aged 1549 years in the five European countries who are considered at risk of an unwanted pregnancy is estimated to be 4.7 million (6.5%).

Differences in the use pattern of contraceptive methods were demonstrated that emphasize the social and cultural differences between the countries. The findings in the current study can be used as a baseline from which to monitor trends in contraceptive use and behaviour in subsequent studies.