Unprotected intercourse among women wanting to avoid pregnancy: attitudes, behaviors, and beliefs

Womens Health Issues. 2012 May-Jun;22(3):e311-8. doi: 10.1016/j.whi.2012.03.003.


Objective: To better understand the behaviors associated with unintended pregnancy, including the frequency and reasons why women engage in unprotected intercourse (UI), to help guide efforts to prevent unintended pregnancy.

Methods: We surveyed 1,392 women with no history of abortion in 13 family planning clinics across the United States regarding the frequency with which they engaged in UI, the reasons for engaging in UI, attitudes toward UI, and their knowledge about the risks of conception.

Results: Nearly half (46%) of respondents engaged in UI within the past 3 months, mostly owing to barriers accessing birth control (49%), not planning to have sex (45%), and the belief that they could not get pregnant (42%). The most prevalent attitudes about UI were that it "feels better" (42%) or "more natural" (41%). Factors associated with an increased odds of having engaged in UI, included holding the views that UI is okay at certain times, feels better, and is more natural, underestimating the risk of conception from 1 year of UI, experiencing difficulty getting birth control prescriptions, having less than a college education, being ages 20 to 24, and being African American/Black.

Conclusion: Compared with our research on abortion clients, family planning clients report high, yet somewhat lower, rates of UI, similar reasons for having UI, and misconceptions about the risk of conception from repeated acts of UI. Long-acting, reversible contraception may offer some of the benefits of UI in terms of spontaneity and pleasure, while reducing women's pregnancy risk.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Contraception Behavior / psychology*
  • Contraception Behavior / statistics & numerical data
  • Contraceptive Agents
  • Family Planning Services / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Health Services Accessibility
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy, Unwanted / psychology*
  • Prevalence
  • Risk-Taking
  • Sexual Partners
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Unsafe Sex / psychology*
  • Unsafe Sex / statistics & numerical data
  • Young Adult


  • Contraceptive Agents