Jennifer Roback Morse

If you need an operation and the doctor tells you that overall, seven-eighths of patients have a successful outcome, you might think that was a pretty good deal. But suppose the operation failed. While you’re in the recovery room, the doctor tells you, “Oh, by the way, for people like you, the operation only succeeds 30% of the time. But we’ll sell you the solution to the botched operation.” You’d be furious. You’d sue that doctor for malpractice if you didn’t punch him first.

Yet this is precisely the situation Congress supports by funding Planned Parenthood and its allies to provide “comprehensive sex education” in secondary schools.

This is no exaggeration. Look at contraceptive failure rates, using Planned Parenthood’s own data. Two studies, (listed below, with website addresses) use this definition of contraceptive failure: the percentage of women who experience a pregnancy at the end of one year of using a particular contraceptive method. Somewhere between 12% and 13% of all contracepting women experienced a pregnancy within a year. In other words, about seven-eighths of women use contraceptives successfully. Two of the most commonly used and widely promoted methods are oral contraceptives and the male condom. Of all women using the Pill for one year, somewhere around 8% will experience a pregnancy. Between 14% and 15% of women who use the condom will become pregnant within a year.

But these statistics, while technically correct, don’t tell the whole story, not by a long shot. These are the “overall” statistics that our hypothetical doctor used in our opening story. The “for people like you” statistics paint a very different picture. These studies break down the population into age groups, income levels, marital status and race.

A poor cohabiting teenager using the Pill has a failure rate of 48.4%. You read that correctly: nearly half of poor cohabiting teenagers get pregnant during their first year using the Pill. If she kicked her boyfriend out of the house, or if she married him, her probability of pregnancy drops to 12.9%. At the other extreme, a middle-aged, middle-class married woman has a 3% chance of getting pregnant after a year on the Pill.

Over 70% of poor, cohabiting teenagers using condoms, will be pregnant within a year. By contrast, the middle-aged, middle-class married woman has a 6% chance of pregnancy after a year of condom use.

Jennifer Roback Morse

Jennifer Roback Morse, Ph.D., is the author of Smart Sex: Finding Life-long Love In A Hook-up World. She blogs at

Be the first to read Jennifer Morse's column. Sign up today and receive delivered each morning to your inbox.