Jennifer Roback Morse

The advocates of contraception have finally admitted in public what some of us have known for a while: The Pill doesn't work very well.  Professor James Trussell of Princeton, one of the world experts on failure rates of various forms of contraception, told a conference in the UK:

“One in 12 women taking the Pill gets pregnant each year because they miss so many tablets. ….Half of all pregnancies in America are unintended and half of those happen because contraception failed or was not taken properly, the rest were not using any contraception.”

I just spoke at an abstinence education conference in South Carolina, on this very subject of contraceptive failure.  South Carolina Parents Involved in Education brought together middle and high school teachers and guidance counselors for training on abstinence.  Probably two-thirds of the audience was female. Easily half the audience was African-American.

I showed the participants this chart (Table 2) reporting failure rates of the Pill broken down by demographic groups. It turns out that poor, cohabiting teenagers using the Pill have a failure rate of almost 50%: 48.4% to be exact. That means, out of 100 low income girls taking the Pill, who are under the age of 20 and living with their boyfriends, 48 of them will have a pregnancy within 12 months.  

People usually gasp when I show that chart. (Last year I did an article on the subject. The lefty netroots went nuts.) My South Carolina teachers weren’t surprised. They see “contraceptive failures” among their students all the time. A little thought will tell you why the failure rates are so high: the women aren't using their contraception correctly. Prof. Trussel confirms this point:

“Studies have shown women miss three times as many pills as they say they do. Computerized pill packs have revealed that … between 10 per cent and 14 per cent admitted missing more than three pills in a month, actually between 30 per cent and 50 per cent missed that many.”

Now you tell us, after years of government sponsored contraceptive education, that women still aren’t using it consistently or correctly.  Experts like Dr. Trussell have given up on educating women on proper contraceptive use. His preferred solution is long-acting hormonal contraceptives, like implants and injectables. In other words, he proposes that women chemically neuter themselves during their peak child-bearing years.

Prof. Trussell also admitted what American pro-life leaders have said all along: “emergency contraception” is not a magic pill. “Increasing access to emergency contraception will not reduce unintended pregnancies and the resulting abortions, despite a massive Government drive to provide it free to young girls. It is unrealistic to expect women to take the emergency contraceptive every time they have unprotected sex.  It has not reduced unintended pregnancies in America or anywhere else that has introduced it.”

You heard it here first, folks: Contraception, even the emergency type, is not realistic.

The experts don’t seem to consider a major alternative: we could encourage teenagers to take sex and child-bearing seriously.  Our culture actively promotes sex as a recreational activity. We come up with more aggressive and intrusive forms of contraception, because we can’t bring ourselves to tell teenagers that they should take sex seriously.  

We seem to be unwilling to face the fact that contraception itself contributes to the problem of not taking sex seriously.  Contraception allows people to get involved in relationships that can’t possibly sustain a pregnancy.  We then call the resulting pregnancy “unintended,” a mechanical problem requiring a technical solution.  After all, we are not supposed to be “judgmental” or “moralistic” about sex.

But there really is something wrong with purely recreational sex with someone that would be a disaster to be a parent with.  We are using the other person as an object that gives us pleasure. We are not seeing our sex partner as the potential parent of our child, which they are, even if we don’t “intend” it.  We are not giving ourselves completely to the other person. We are holding ourselves back, even as we expect sexual satisfaction from them.  We have created a culture of “use and be used,” instead of “love and be loved.”  The fact that the other person agrees to be used doesn’t make it ok.

As long as adults consider unlimited sex an entitlement, our young people will have problems that contraception can’t solve.  


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 jennifer-roback-morse.blogspot.com

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