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What Do I Do If Contraception Fails?

In the United Kingdom, around 44% of women, and over six out of every ten women of reproductive age are currently using some sort of birth control method.

Despite the success of contraception, in limiting unwanted pregnancies and also protecting men and women from certain sexually transmitted infections (STIs), no method of birth control is 100% effective. Below, we take an in-depth look at the statistics behind the most commonly used contraceptives, and offer some suggestions for what to do if you fear that your birth control method of choice has failed.

Stats and Figures

The National Health Service (NHS) has detailed data on the use of sexual health and reproductive services (2016 to 2017). Though it is important to note that their data does not take into consideration the provision of contraception from means other than a dedicated sexual health clinic - these other means could include local pharmacies, a GP or the hospital.

44% of women who used these services did so to acquire oral contraceptives. Use of long acting reversible contraceptives such as pills and implants have rose gradually over the last decade. The National Institute of Care Excellence (NICE) believe that the uptake of long acting contraception could save the NHS money.

A more comprehensive study published in the BMJ delves much deeper into the use of various contraception, including the sources of contraceptive methods. Almost 60% of 16 to 19 year old participants reported using a community clinic to acquire contraception. The study also found that women were more likely to use their general practice for contraception while men preferred to use retail outlets - these can include pharmacies and supermarkets.

Oral contraceptives are the most common form of contraception used by women in the UK, despite having a higher fail rate (9%) than the implant (0.05%).

Contraceptive method Chance of failure Effectiveness (amount of pregnancies per year)
Implant 0.05% <1 in 100
IUD 0.2%-0.8% <1 in 100
Male sterilisation 0.15% <1 in 100
Female sterilisation 0.5% <1 in 100
Injection 6% ~6-12 in 100
Contraceptive Pills 9% ~6-12 in 100
Contraceptive Ring 9% ~6-12 in 100
Diaphragm 12% ~6-12 in 100
Male condom 18% >18 per 100
Female condom 21% >18 per 100
Withdrawal 22% >18 per 100

Figures were taken from the World Health Organisation (WHO)

What To Do If You Fear That A Contraception Method Has Failed?

While every method of birth control can theoretically fail (even sterilisation procedures have been known to reverse, though this is very rare), using contraception can drastically reduce the chance of an unwanted pregnancy. Choosing the option that best fits your needs, and even combining contraceptive methods will increase the overall effectiveness. For example using a male condom and the birth control pill will significantly reduce the overall failure rate.

Nonetheless, contraception can fail even under correct use and guidance. If you fear that your birth control method has failed, here are a couple of suggestions on what you can do.

Emergency Contraception (EC)

If you know that your contraceptive method has failed, one option to avoid an unwanted pregnancy is to opt for over-the-counter emergency contraception. Also known as the "morning after pill", this pill can be taken as soon after sexual intercourse where you fear that your contraceptive failed. With many types of contraception, you might not know of the failure until you miss your menstruation period. However, a broken condom, to name just one example, is often noticeable and will allow you to make a decision regarding emergency contraception. Furthermore, if you missed taking your daily birth control pill and had sex without a condom, taking an emergency contraception pill might be a good idea. In the United Kingdom, the morning after pill is a free service on the NHS which can be provided by your local pharmacy.

Fostering or Adoption

Another option for women who become pregnant due to failed contraceptive methods is to give birth to the child. Just because a pregnancy is not planned, does not mean that parenting will be an impossibility. In fact, it is estimated that 45% of all pregnancies in the UK are unplanned, and many of those families choose to have the child. If you become pregnant and want to have the child but not raise them yourself, adoption is another option worth considering.

However, there are key distinctions between fostering and adoption. Adoption is a legal contract which denies a parent the right to be involved with their child's life once adopted. Fostering, on the other hand, allows a foster carer and local authorities to work with the parent to raise your child. Unlike adoption, the parent can have regular direct contact with their child and be engaged in the upbringing of their child.


Abortion in the UK has been legally available under the NHS since its introduction under the Abortion Act of 1967 and is performed under certain circumstances. Up to 24 weeks after conception, an abortion can be carried out if termination of the pregnancy poses a lower risk of injury to the physical and mental health of a woman than if she were to continue her pregnancy. You can find out more information about abortion options and the associated risks from the NHS website.

While contraceptive methods are certainly safe and generally effective, they can also fail. When an unplanned pregnancy occurs, there are safe and legal options for you. Speak with your doctor about the options available to you.



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