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Contraceptive method use among women and its association with age, relationship status and duration: findings from the third British National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (Natsal-3)
  1. Nicola Firman1,
  2. Melissa J Palmer2,
  3. Ian M Timæus3,
  4. Kaye Wellings2
  1. 1 Life Course Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Population, Policy and Practice Programme, Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health, University College London, London, UK
  2. 2 Centre for Sexual and Reproductive Health Research, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London, UK
  3. 3 Department of Population Health, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to Prof. Kaye Wellings, Department of Population Health, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London WC1E 7HT, UK; Kaye.Wellings{at}


Background One in six pregnancies in Britain are unplanned. An understanding of influences on contraceptive method choice is essential to provision compatible with users’ lifestyles. This study describes contraceptive method use by age, and relationship status and duration, among women in Britain.

Methods Data from women participating in the third British National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles were used to describe contraceptive use grouped as: unreliable method or none; barrier methods; oral/injectable hormonal methods; and long-acting reversible contraception. A total of 4456 women at risk of pregnancy were used to examine associations between contraception use, age, relationship type and duration. Age-stratified odds ratios for contraceptive use by relationship type and duration were estimated using binary logistic regression.

Results Some 26.0% of 16–49-year-olds used hormonal contraception as their usual method. Use of hormonal and barrier methods was highest in the youngest age group and decreased with age; the reverse was true for use of unreliable methods or none. Barrier method use was higher in short-term relationships among younger participants; this was not seen among older respondents. Duration was more strongly associated with usual contraceptive method than relationship type; this pattern was more marked among younger participants.

Conclusions Asking about relationship status and duration may help providers support women’s contraceptive use by considering their priorities and preferences at different life stages. Interactions between relationship characteristics, age and contraception are complex, and bear closer scrutiny both in research and in policy and practice.

  • contraception
  • Britain
  • relationship duration
  • age
  • unintended pregnancy
  • relationship status
  • national survey

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  • Contributors NF analysed and interpreted the data. NF, MJP, IMT and KW were major contributors in writing the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

  • Funding Natsal-3 was supported by grants from the Medical Research Council (G0701757) and the Wellcome Trust (084840), with contributions from the Economic and Social Research Council and Department of Health. NF was supported by a UK/EU Fees Studentship Award for her MSc in Demography & Health at LSHTM. All research at Great Ormond Street Hospital NHS Foundation Trust and UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health is made possible by the NIHR Great Ormond Street Hospital Biomedical Research Centre. The views expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the NHS, the NIHR or the Department of Health.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent Not required.

  • Ethics approval The Natsal-3 study was approved by the Oxfordshire Research Ethics Committee A (reference: 09/H0604/27). Participants provided oral informed consent for interviews.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data sharing statement The data that support the findings of this study are available from the Natsal research team but restrictions apply to the availability of these data, which were used under license for the current study, and so are not publicly available. Data are however available from the authors upon reasonable request and with permission of the Natsal research team.

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