Most College Students Use Contraception Inconsistently — And Don’t Think They’re At Risk For Unplanned Pregnancy

Most College Students Use Contraception Inconsistently — And Don’t Think They’re At Risk For Unplanned Pregnancy


The second time I ever had sex, the condom broke. I was 16, turning 17 the next day, and I wasn’t on The Pill. I started panicking. While my high school boyfriend’s (very cool) parents tried to calm us down and comfort us, I knew I had to do something to make sure I wasn’t pregnant ASAP. I had friends who had been in similar situations and just crossed their fingers until their next period, hoping they wouldn’t get pregnant. But I couldn’t take that chance. I still had my bottom braces in, I thought, how could I possibly have a child right now? The next day, we went to Planned Parenthood during our lunch break and I took emergency contraception Plan B on my seventeenth birthday during study hall.

Back in 2004, Plan B wasn’t available over the counter and there was an age restriction. Had I not known about my options (or had access to a Planned Parenthood), I don’t know what would’ve happened, but I’m so thankful I did. But as a new survey found, too many people still don’t. The survey of 3,600 female and male undergraduate and graduate students in the United States, ages 18-25, from Teva Women’s Health, the makers of Plan B One-Step, and The Kinsey Institute at Indiana University, found that 62 percent of sexually active college students are not using contraception consistently, and only 15 percent of students felt like they were at a high risk of an an unplanned pregnancy.

But a not-so-fun fact: In the U.S, 45 percent of all pregnancies in the U.S. are unintended — and out of all the unintended pregnancies in the U.S., 41 percent are due to inconsistent use of contraception. So what’s up — why aren’t we taking advantage of effective birth control options? Is is laziness? Inaccessibility? Lack of comprehensive sex ed?

62% of college students surveyed incorrectly believed they have to be at least 18 years of age or older to purchase OTC EC.

“I was surprised to see nearly three out of five sexually active college students in the study reported using contraception inconsistently,” Justin Garcia, PhD, Associate Director for Research and Education with the Kinsey Institute. “It’s hard to say why exactly, as we didn’t specifically ask participants in the current study about their reasons for contraceptive use and non-use. But our study did find that college students surveyed held a considerable amount of misinformation about contraceptive-related issues, so it’s possible that knowledge gaps related to sexual and reproductive health contribute to these relatively high rates of inconsistent use. Other research has also pointed to a variety of factors, including socio-demographics, relationship factors, arousal, alcohol and other drug use, so those are all factors that we will need to further investigate in future research specifically on college students’ knowledge, attitudes, and practices with contraception, including EC.”

So why do so few students think they’re at risk for pregnancy? Is it misinformation? The — totally false — “it can’t happen to me” attitude that people also have over contracting STIs? “Based on the scientific literature there are likely a variety of reasons related to individual knowledge about sexual and reproductive health, attitudes, and experiences,” Dr. Garcia says. “The data from the current survey isn’t able to tease that out, but it’s definitely one of the primary questions that could be addressed in future research.”