Background: Many unmarried young people in low- and middle-income countries (LMIC) want to avoid pregnancy but do not use modern methods of contraception-as a result, half of teen births in these countries are unintended. Researchers have identified numerous barriers that prevent youth from using contraception. However, much of the research in West Africa is narrowly focused on married women, and relatively little research has been done to understand the needs, preferences, barriers, and solution set for sexually active unmarried young people who would like to avoid pregnancy. The purpose of this study was to gain insight into the behavioral barriers that prevent unmarried young people in eastern Senegal from using modern methods of contraception.
Methods: This qualitative study conducted in 2017 in the Tambacounda and Kedougou regions in Senegal explores attitudes and beliefs relating to sex and contraception among unmarried young women and men through 48 in-depth individual interviews with young people aged 15-24 and parents of youth and 5 sex-segregated focus groups with 6-9 young people per group. The research team conducted a thematic content analysis and synthesized the findings by major theme following the behavioral diagnosis methodology.
Results: Drawing insights from behavioral science, the analysis yields five key findings: (1) unmarried young people avoid making a decision about contraception because thinking about contraceptive use provokes uncomfortable associations with a negative identity (i.e., being sexually active before marriage); (2) unmarried young people see modern methods as inappropriate for people like them; (3) unmarried young people are overconfident in their ability to prevent pregnancy through traditional and folk methods; (4) unmarried young people overestimate the social and health risks of modern contraceptive methods; and (5) unmarried young people fail to plan ahead and are not prepared to use modern contraceptive methods before every sexual encounter.
Conclusions: Interventions aimed at increasing uptake of contraceptives among unmarried young people in eastern Senegal must address several significant behavioral barriers in addition to structural, informational, and socio-cultural barriers in order to be successful.
Keywords: Adolescent; Barriers; Behavioral diagnosis; Family planning; Modern methods of contraception; Senegal; Sexual and reproductive health; Sub-Saharan Africa; Youth.