Context: Negative myths and misconceptions about family planning are a barrier to modern contraceptive use. Most research on the subject has focused on individual beliefs about contraception; however, given that myths spread easily within communities, it is also important to examine how the prevalence of negative myths in a community affects the aggregate level of method use.
Methods: Baseline data collected in 2010-2011 by the Measurement, Learning & Evaluation project on women aged 15-49 living in selected cities in Kenya, Nigeria and Senegal were used. Multivariate analyses examined associations between modern contraceptive use and belief in negative myths for individuals and communities.
Results: In each country, the family planning myths most prevalent at the individual and community levels were that "people who use contraceptives end up with health problems," "contraceptives are dangerous to women's health" and "contraceptives can harm your womb." On average, women in Nigeria and Kenya believed 2.7 and 4.6 out of eight selected myths, respectively, and women in Senegal believed 2.6 out of seven. Women's individual-level belief in myths was negatively associated with their modern contraceptive use in all three countries (odds ratios, 0.2-0.7). In Nigeria, the women's community-level myth variable was positively associated with modern contraceptive use (1.6), whereas the men's community-level myth variable was negatively associated with use (0.6); neither community-level variable was associated with modern contraceptive use in Kenya or Senegal.
Conclusion: Education programs are needed to dispel common myths and misconceptions about modern contraceptives. In Nigeria, programs that encourage community-level discussions may be effective at reducing myths and increasing modern contraceptive use.