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Contraceptive Failure of the Ovulation Method of Periodic Abstinence

James Trussell and Laurence Grummer-Strawn
Family Planning Perspectives
Vol. 22, No. 2 (Mar. - Apr., 1990), pp. 65-75
Published by: Guttmacher Institute
DOI: 10.2307/2135511
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2135511
Page Count: 11
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Contraceptive Failure of the Ovulation Method of Periodic Abstinence
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Abstract

Previously published estimates of probabilities of method and user failure for all contraceptive methods suffer from a serious methodological error and are biased downward, with the extent of bias unknown. Data from a World Health Organization clinical trial of the ovulation method of periodic abstinence were used to provide the first correctly calculated measures of method and user efficacy and to determine the characteristics that distinguish women who consciously take risks from those who do not. Probabilities of pregnancy during the first year are 3.1 percent during perfect use (method failure) and 86.4 percent during imperfect use (user failure). Thus, if used perfectly, the ovulation method is very effective. However, it is extremely unforgiving of imperfect use. Because perfect compliance is difficult for many couples who desire intercourse when it is forbidden by ovulation method rules, and because the risk of pregnancy during imperfect use is so great, the ovulation method cannot be considered an ideal contraceptive method for the typical couple, who are likely to be less compliant than couples who volunteer for a clinical trial. The probability of an accidental pregnancy is greatest when any of the three most serious rules--no intercourse during mucus days, within three days after the day of peak fecundity or during times of stress--are broken. Those who have a poor attitude toward the rules are more likely to take risks, including serious risks. Those who get away with taking a risk (i.e., do not get pregnant) are very likely to take risks again. Because breaking the most serious rules entails a 28 percent risk of pregnancy per cycle, those likely to take risks should be counseled about the probable consequences.

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