Unplanned Pregnancy

Unplanned Pregnancy

A positive result on a pregnancy test is thrilling news for some people … but when parenthood is the last thing in mind, this outcome can be extremely difficult to deal with; its ramifications are life changing, one way or another.

Proceeding with a pregnancy, or deciding on termination, is a personal choice - and we neither promote nor endorse any one option. Ultimately, it comes down to making an educated decision and we hope this article will provide a good foundation for consideration of those options.

What is an unplanned pregnancy?

Pregnancy may occur after a male ejaculates into a female's vagina during or shortly after the act of intercourse. Although a woman is more, or less, likely to conceive at different points in her cycle – it is possible at any time, even during her period! Through a process called fertilization, the male's sperm fuses with the female egg to begin the development of pregnancy.

An unwanted or unplanned pregnancy can be considered as such when a couple conceives accidentally, without the intention of having a baby together. Getting pregnant unexpectedly can happen to any woman of child bearing age, and may happen even though she and her sexual partner use methods and/or devices to prevent that from occurring.


Worldwide, it is estimated that there are eighty million unintended pregnancies that occur each year. Of those, 42 million end up as induced abortion and 34 million as unplanned births brought to term.

The National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) released a publication in 2002 called the National Survey of Family Growth. Among household populations in the United States, 'half of all pregnancies in the United States at present are unintended, accounting for nearly 3 million pregnancies annually; of those, about one quarter end in abortion.

What contributes to such high rates?

An editorial published in Contraception in 2008 noted the following factors: failure or improper usage of a contraceptive method or device; lack of access to adequate forms of contraception; a lack of sufficient sexual education; society's general discomfort with topics addressing sexuality; poverty; “poor communication between sexual partners; unrealistic assumptions about the risk of getting pregnant; an increased acceptance (by the general public) of non-married parents giving birth; an over-sexualized culture that fails to portray it responsibly; and contraception providers falling short in engaging patients about sex, contraception and pregnancy.

Who's at most risk?

In the United States, teens represent a large proportion of those who experience unplanned pregnancy. According to the medical journal called Contraception, One in three girls becomes pregnant at least once before turning twenty.

The problem is most concentrated among single young adults; this is because: they have had little exposure to sexual health topics and family planning education, are most vulnerable to myth and misinformation, and have had the least amount of experience (as compared to those individuals who have been sexually active for longer) in having sex responsibly and using contraception correctly.

What are the factors in dealing with one?

There are many issues impacting how a person copes with an unintended conception. Of vital importance, at this time, is a couple's access to factual information - as well as the counsel they receive from health care providers, family and friends.

Moral, ethical and religious principles may influence how a person feels about bearing a child versus choosing to terminate the fetus. Socioeconomic factors are paramount; the financial stability of both parents will play a role in the decision, as well as how a baby may affect future education or employment. Some people factor in how a new baby will interfere with the well-being of existing children, and how it will affect the relationship between mother and father.

The couple may not want to raise a child in the environment in which they live, while others want to spare the baby of potential physical defects because of drug or alcohol use prior to (or even during) pregnancy. There are also those who are simply not ready to be a parent because they feel they're to too young, unprepared or unable to do it for a variety of other reasons.

Contraception malfunction

The Guttenmacher Institute, reports that practically one hundred percent of North American women who have had intercourse and are between the ages of fifteen to forty four, have used at a minimum, one method of contraception. Further, approximately sixty percent of them are currently still using one.

Of those women who are of reproductive age, the most common methods of birth Control are those that are easily reversible, led by the Birth Control Pill, Intra-uterine Device (IUD) and the male condom. Age, socioeconomic factors, and whether they've been married or have already had children are determining factors of contraceptive choice.

Even with perfect use, contraceptive methods still have a chance at failure; some forms have a much higher risk of unplanned pregnancy, such as Withdrawal or the Rhythm Method. When relying on a device or medication, the sponge, spermicides, birth control pill, male condoms, and cervical caps generally have the highest rate of unplanned pregnancy - both with strict and average adherence to suggested methods of use.

Keep in mind that there are surgical methods that are nearly – but not completely - foolproof ways to prevent conception from occurring; these are Tubal Ligation and Vasectomy.

The only foolproof method of preventing unintended pregnancy is Abstinence. Using this technique does not mean a couple cannot enjoy other forms of pleasurable stimulation. There are many: masturbation, sensual massage, sexual massage (e.g. hand-job or vaginal fingering), or using sex toys.

Oral sex is another excellent method of pleasuring one's partner without the exposure to pregnancy, but it does come with other implications to consider, primarily sexually transmitted disease. The most common STD/STIs that are suspected to be transferrable through cunnilingus and/or fellatio are Herpes Simplex Virus and Human Papilloma Virus (HPV).

What to do about an unplanned pregnancy

The Morning After Pill is a woman's immediate line of defense against pregnancy. It does have to be taken within the first twenty-four to seventy-two hours after sex for it to actually prevent sperm implantation. It is considered an emergency form of contraception and is not intended for regular use; it should only be taken under medical supervision. Keep in mind that this can have side effects that are painful.

Once conception takes place, a woman has a few options in how she chooses to proceed with her pregnancy. All of them carry their own risks as well as short and long term implications. One route is to carry the fetus to term and keep the baby, or give it up for adoption. Alternately, intentional termination of the fetus or embryo from the uterus is called an abortion. Four in ten unwanted pregnancies are ended by this technique, most commonly done using surgical procedures or medications. According to The Gynecological Sourcebook (2003), roughly forty three percent of women have had at one induced abortion by age forty five. (Although not really an 'option', there are also natural causes or complications from pregnancy that might cause a spontaneous abortion, known as a miscarriage. This can occur during the early stages of pregnancy, usually within the first four months of fertilization.)

Check with your doctor's office, local Family Planning clinic or the internet for more information and local resources on how to prevent, or deal with, an unintended pregnancy.

Final thought

Individuals who choose to be sexually active must realize that they are at risk of pregnancy, even if they do use contraception. When a person isn't wanting to have a child, it makes it all the more important to practice measures that mitigate the risk. Learn how pregnancy odds work, practice safe sex (or abstinence), and consider using dual methods of contraception like combining the use of the pill and a condom.

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