The Fog Zone


This piece was written by The National Campaign’s Chief Program Officer, Bill Albert. It is cross-posted from The National Campaign’s blog, Pregnant Pause.

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Thanks to my terrific colleagues Kelleen Kaye, Katy Suellentrop, and Corinna Sloup, we all now have some more sobering news to digest. Just in time for the holidays.

Here it is in a nutshell: Although nearly all unmarried young adults think pregnancies should be planned and most want to avoid pregnancy at this time in their lives, many take a pass on using contraception completely, many know little about it, and many think contraception simply doesn’t make much difference. Ouch.

These important new research findings are spelled out in great detail in the new publication, The Fog Zone: How Misperceptions, Magical Thinking, and Ambivalence Put Young Adults at Risk for Unplanned Pregnancy. The nationally representative survey of 1,800 unmarried young adults ages 18-29 is the first of its kind to focus in depth on the attitudes and behavior of both single men and women regarding pregnancy planning, contraception, and related issues and provides a series of maddening contradictions among young adults. Consider the following:

Nearly all unmarried young adults ages 18-29 believe pregnancy is something that should be planned (94% of men and 86% of women) and say that it is important to avoid pregnancy in their lives right now (86% of men and 88% of women). Even so:

  • Only about half of sexually active unmarried young adults use contraception regularly–many say they used it inconsistently (24%) or not at all (19%) over the past three months.
  • About four in ten (38% of men and 44% of women) agree with the statement: "It doesn’t matter whether you use birth control or not; when it is your time to get pregnant it will happen."
  • Many (29% of women and 42% of men) say it is at least slightly likely they will have unprotected sex in the next three months–17% of women and 19% of men describe it as either extremely or quite likely.

Wise sage and boss Sarah Brown sums it up this way: "Reducing the nation’s stubbornly high rate of unplanned pregnancy will require a combination of responsible individual behavior and responsible public policies. These startling survey results also suggest that this country is in desperate need of a new social norm: Unless both partners are seeking pregnancy and are committed to each other and to the years it takes to raise children, they must take active, careful, and consistent steps to avoid it."

Here are some more highlights from The Fog Zone report:

Many unmarried young adults say they know little about contraception. Even though 82% have used some form of contraception in the past and 90% believe they have all the knowledge they need to avoid an unplanned pregnancy:

  • About six in ten (63%) say they know "little" or "nothing" about birth control pills.
  • Three in ten (30%) say they know little or nothing about condoms.

Myths and misinformation about pregnancy and contraception are prevalent, as are inflated fears about the possible side effects of contraception. For example:

  • Nearly half (44%) of those who have used birth control pills incorrectly believe that women need to take a break from the pill every few years.
  • 18% of men think having sex standing up reduces the chances of pregnancy.
  • 42% of men and 40% of women believe that the chance of getting pregnant within a year while using the pill is 50% or greater, despite research showing that the birth control pill is typically 92% effective.
  • 28% of men incorrectly think wearing two condoms provides extra protection; in fact two condoms are more likely to break due to friction.
  • 27% of women and 34% of men believe it is extremely or quite likely that using the pill or other hormonal methods of contraception will lead to a serious health problem like cancer, despite clinical evidence to the contrary.

Many unmarried young adults are suspicious of birth control. For example:

  • 32% agree with the statement: "The government is trying to limit Blacks and other minority populations by encouraging the use of birth control."
  • 43% agree with the statement: "Drug companies don’t care if birth control is safe; they just want people to use it so they can make money."

Many believe they are infertile. The actual rate of infertility for those 18-29 is about 8%. However:

  • 59% of women and 49% of men say it is at least slightly likely they are infertile.
  • 75% of those who express concerns about fertility are not basing their concern on information from a doctor.

Many are ambivalent about the timing and circumstances under which to start a family. Even among those unmarried young adults who say it is important to them to avoid pregnancy right now:

  • 20% of women and 43% of men say they would be at least a little pleased if they found out today that they or their partner were pregnant.

Wondering what people are saying about all this? Check out coverage (and comments) on CNN, Glamour, SexReally, and The Huffington Post. Then let us know what you think!

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