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Marie Stopes International: Condom chases contraceptive pill in terms of popularity

A major new report released today by the Office for National Statistics entitled "Contraception and Sexual Health, 2008/09" reveals the results of a survey on contraceptive use and sexual health carried out in 2008/09 among women aged 16-49 and men aged 16-69. Leading sexual and reproductive health charity Marie Stopes International makes the following statement:

"Today's report reveals the state of the nation's sexual health and contraceptive habits, and we are delighted that the majority (88 per cent) of women 'at risk' of pregnancy* used at least one method of contraception, with the most popular methods being the pill (38 per cent) and the condom (37 per cent respectively). However, Marie Stopes International is concerned that the two most popular methods are those which are subject to incorrect or inconsistent use, which may result in unplanned pregnancy.

Contraception needs to be used consistently and correctly to be effective. For example, some types of contraceptive pill have to be taken at exactly the same time every day - if taken more than three hours late a woman may fall pregnant. Not all women follow these instructions as they should and are in complete shock to find themselves pregnant. Long-acting reversible contraceptive (LARC) methods were less popular among women than the pill and condom, with less than one in ten women using the intrauterine device (IUD) (6 per cent), hormonal injection (3 per cent) and hormonal intrauterine system (IUS) (2 per cent). This suggests an urgent need to better promote and raise awareness of these methods, especially since they rely less on compliance than the contraceptive pill or condom and so for typical use may be more effective in preventing pregnancy.

Almost all women (91 per cent) had heard of hormonal emergency contraception or the 'morning after pill'; this high level of awareness is a positive finding, given the vital role of emergency contraception in preventing the emotional, social and financial consequences of an unintended pregnancy. However, women who had heard of hormonal emergency contraception were asked which, if any, of seven statements about the 'morning after pill' were true. Only a quarter (24 per cent) identified six or seven of these statements correctly, with some women incorrectly believing that the 'morning after pill' protected against pregnancy until the next period or against sexually transmitted infections. Such shocking misinformation puts women at risk of both unplanned pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, and highlights the need for improved awareness campaigns and myth-busting around the efficacy, advantages and drawbacks of contraceptive methods.

Improved awareness campaigns to highlight the health risks associated with sexually transmitted infections may also be required, as the research revealed that over half of men (59 per cent) and of women (52 per cent) who were not in a long-term exclusive relationship reported making no changes to their behaviour as a result of what they had heard about HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections. Prevention of pregnancy was cited as a reason for using a condom almost twice as often as prevention of infection, suggesting that the prevention of sexually transmitted infections is not being prioritised by all of those who are sexually active. It is vital that healthcare professionals and educators work together to improve the provision of sexual health information, and that individuals recognise the importance of using barrier methods of contraception and take responsibility for preventing the spread of sexually transmitted infections.

Interestingly, and of relevance to recent debates in the media, television advertisements were the second most commonly mentioned source of information about STIs (24 per cent). Marie Stopes International supports adverts related not just to sexually transmitted infections but to all areas of sexual and reproductive health services, which may provide men and women with much needed advice and clarity on where to access help and information.

MSI also urges the government to continue investing in family planning services and training across the country to ensure better access to accurate information and choice of contraceptive methods."

*Women were defined as 'at risk' of pregnancy if they were in a heterosexual relationship and were neither pregnant nor relying on surgical methods of contraception.

All quotes are attributable to Anne Quesney, Policy & Parliamentary Adviser UK and Europe, Marie Stopes International.

The full Office for National Statistics report can be found online at: < href="http://www.statistics.gov.uk/downloads/theme_health/contra2008-9.pdf" target=_blank">National Statistics Report">

For media enquiries and spokesperson interview please contact:

Emily James: 0207 034 2307 / 07815 009257

Tony Kerridge: 0207 034 2365 / 07748 948037

Notes to editors:

MSI is a specialist organisation providing expert and confidential care and support to adults and teenagers in relation to their sexual and reproductive healthcare. This includes advice, information and services related to contraception, unplanned pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections and emergency contraception. MSI provides a 24 hour information line to offer advice and assistance: 0845 300 0460. For further information visit www.mariestopes.org.uk">

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