New research shows majority of women in Ireland are using ineffective contraception to prevent pregnancy

New research shows majority of women in Ireland are using ineffective contraception to prevent pregnancy

New research shows majority of women in Ireland are using ineffective contraception to prevent pregnancy. Government needs to prioritise its commitment to free contraceptive scheme.

  • Most comprehensive research in 10 years shows over half of Irish women use contraception most linked with failure
  • Almost a third of women aged 17-45 have had sex in the past where the contraception failed, and this resulted in a pregnancy
  • 1 in 2 women aged 17 – 45 claimed that they have had sex where no contraception was used
  • Irish women face significant barriers in accessing their preferred type of contraception

24 November 2020: New research published today on contraception in Ireland has revealed serious misunderstandings and misconceptions by Irish women on contraception and fertility. The research, commissioned by the Dublin Well Woman Centre, and carried out by Empathy Research, has revealed shocking levels of misunderstanding and a preference by women in Ireland to use forms of contraception which are proven to be least effective in preventing pregnancy.

Almost 9 out of 10 (87%) of those surveyed cited pregnancy prevention as the most important factor when choosing a form of contraception. However, the majority of women surveyed use forms of contraception which are the least effective in preventing pregnancy.

The survey findings also show a worrying over-reliance on Emergency Contraception in many cases.  While there are 3 and 5-day Emergency Contraceptive pills available over the counter, these are less effective than regular contraception and they do not address the need for a longer-term form of contraception.

Speaking on the findings Alison Begas, Chief Executive Dublin Well Woman Centre, said, “This is the most comprehensive research carried out on contraception in Ireland in the last ten years. The findings show there are still significant mistruths around contraception and fertility amongst women in Ireland. It also points to significant barriers on the part of women who are trying to access their preferred forms of contraception.

Access to free contraception was a recommendation made by the Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth Amendment, and was included in the Programme for Government earlier this year for women aged 17 – 25 years. We are calling on Government to prioritise its Programme for Government commitment as a first step in rolling out a fully State-funded contraception scheme to all women in their reproductive years.”

The research, conducted in March 2020 on a national sample of over 1,000 women aged 17 – 45, revealed that the contraceptive pill and condoms are the most common forms of contraception used by respondents. 28% of respondents use the contraceptive pill whilst 27% rely on condoms to prevent pregnancy. These are the methods cited most often in contraceptive failure by health experts and extensive international research.

Almost three quarters (73%) of those respondents who said they had experienced contraceptive failure in the past, claim that they were using a condom/male sheath when the contraception failed. Just over 1 in 5 (21%) claimed they were using the contraceptive pill when the contraception failed.

The survey also found that contraceptive failure is resulting in pregnancy. 35% of those surveyed said they had sex where the contraception failed, and claimed it resulted in a pregnancy.

Shirley McQuade, Medical Director of the Dublin Well Woman Centre said, “The research has shown us that women face many barriers to accessing the most appropriate forms of contraception. All women should be able to access contraception that is most appropriate for them, and free of charge. There is no one right form of contraception for each woman and many will change what contraception they use over time. Certain forms of contraception are more suitable for certain women and a comprehensive programme would give a woman the choice of which she wanted to use, in consultation with her GP or medical professional.

At the Dublin Well Woman Centre we fit an increasing amount of Long Acting Reversible Contraceptives (LARCs) every year, and we fitted over 1,600 in 2019. LARCs are more dependable than other popular forms of contraception such as the pill or condom, whose effectiveness depends on rigorously compliant use. Implants and coils are more than 99% effective. LARCs have an extremely high rate of success, and thus are our best chance of reducing the incidence of unintended pregnancy.”

The Dublin Well Woman Centre is experiencing a growing demand amongst women in Ireland for LARCs with many women increasingly aware of the benefits of LARCs when presenting to a Well Woman Clinic doctor for their initial consultation.

LARCs have proven to be a much more effective form of contraception than the oral contraceptive pill, with evidence showing them to be at least 10 times more effective than any other form of reversible contraception. ‘Fit and Forget’ contraceptives (LARCs) are also the most cost-effective form of contraception in the long term.


Spokespeople available for comment

For further information, please contact:
Danielle Martin, Drury Porter Novelli
086 776 1592

About the research:

  • This research was conducted by Empathy Research, and supported by a research grant from Bayer. The fieldwork was conducted from 10th March – 23th March 2020.
  • Research was conducted amongst a nationally representative sample of N= 1,014 women aged between 17-45 who have sexual encounters with men. Research was conducted through an online survey amongst members of Empathy Research’s proprietary research panel.
  • The sample size of N=1,014 results in a margin of error of +/- 3.1% 

Other key findings include:

  • The majority of women surveyed use less effective forms of contraception to prevent pregnancy (Despite pregnancy prevention (87%) being the factor respondents cited as most important when choosing a form of contraception.)
  • Almost a third of females aged 17-45 have had sex in the past where the contraception failed.
  • Contraceptive failure is resulting in pregnancy. 35% of those surveyed that have had sex where the contraception failed, claim that it resulted in a pregnancy.
  • Almost 1 in 5 (18%) women aged 17-45 claim that they must travel outside of the town/city/village that they live in, in order to access the contraception they are currently using.
  • Over half (53%) of this cohort surveyed are not aware that the condom has a 17% failure rate in typical use, and almost half (49%) are not aware that the failure rate for the pill is actually 9%.
  • 21% of 17-24-year olds incorrectly believe that “You can’t get pregnant if you have sex during your period.”
  • 10% of all respondents (17-45 years) incorrectly believe that the withdrawal method offers 100% protection from getting pregnant. 34% have used the withdrawal method in the past, with 8% currently relying on it as their form of contraception.
  • 11% of all respondents incorrectly believe you will not get pregnant while breastfeeding.

Click here for the full report


About the Dublin Well Woman Centre:

The Dublin Well Woman Centre (DWWC) was founded in 1978, with the aim of giving women in Ireland access to information and services around contraception, at a time when it was largely illegal. In the 1980s and 90s the organisation fought a number of court cases at the High Court and Supreme Court, eventually winning (at the European Court of Human Rights) the right to give women information on abortion and on abortion services available outside the State.

DWWC operates three women’s health clinics in Dublin, and employs 34 doctors, nurses, counsellors, and administrative staff.  Over 35,000 consultations are provided annually, and the DWWC prides itself on offering services that support women at every stage of their reproductive health journey.

The Dublin Well Woman Centre is a not-for-profit organisation and is a registered charity.

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