What makes it possible for people all over the planet to finish their educations, make a living, and raise healthier children? If you know us at all, you know what’s coming… Birth control! Couples around the world have been using some form of it for centuries, because having the power to control when you have children is a big effing deal. But what forms of birth control are people around the world using today? Let’s take a look.
The lay of the land
Many countries, including the U.S., check in with their residents from time to time to find out what birth control methods people are using. Lucky for birth control nerds like us, the United Nations then brings all this information together so we can compare and contrast. People decide what birth control to use based on all kinds of factors: their experiences with methods, what they hear about methods from friends and family, their access to health care services, cost, and convenience.
In these charts:
Couples using “no method” may be trying to get pregnant, may not have had sex before, or may want to use a method but lack access.*
Hey neighbor: A look at the U.S., Canada, and Mexico
When it comes to North American countries and birth control, we’re more different than you might imagine. In the U.S., the most popular methods are the pill and female sterilization. In Canada, the pill and male sterilization (a.k.a. vasectomy) reign. In Mexico, female sterilization wins the day, hands down.
Compared to men in Canada, way fewer U.S. men have vasectomies (22% vs 7%); men in Mexico aren’t big fans either (2%).
Compared to the U.S. and Canada where the pill is the most popular non-permanent birth control method, women in Mexico are not into the pill—only about 4% use it.
The IUD is a different story—more than twice as many women in Mexico use one compared to women in the U.S. (10% vs 4%). Canadian women are even less likely to use an IUD.
The big leagues: Birth control in Brazil, India, and China
What’s up in large and economically growing countries like Brazil, India, and China? Like in the U.S., the pill and female sterilization are the most popular methods in Brazil. India is more like Mexico—the majority of women use female sterilization. China is totally different, with over 40% of women using the IUD.
Very few women in India and China use the pill, and almost none use the shot. Both China and India have had government policies to get people to use birth control, including people who wouldn’t have made that choice without the government getting involved. Although these government policies have shifted over time in both countries, they remain an ongoing issue in some places, despite the fact that most member countries of the United Nations have supported the right of couples “to decide freely and responsibly the number and spacing of their children and to have the information, education and means to do so” since the 1960s.
Could be better—but could also be (a lot) worse
While the U.S. has its ups and downs with birth control access, we’re pretty lucky compared to some countries. Up to 40% of women in Haiti have completed their families or want to delay their next baby by two or more years but aren’t using birth control. We don’t know how many women feel that way in Afghanistan, but we know only about 20% of women there are using birth control. Some of this is certainly about personal choice, but some is about terrible access to health care of all kinds.
So on this fine World Contraception Day, women in the U.S. can be thankful for the access to birth control we do have. (BTW, it could be a good time to make sure your health insurance plan is set to renew or look into buying a plan when the new enrollment period starts on November 15th.) If you’ve already got your birth control covered, how about supporting better access for others? You could give a shout out or a helping hand to one of these groups working to make birth control more accessible to women in Haiti and Afghanistan.
Association Pour la Promotion de la Famille Haitienne (PROFAMIL) is a dedicated women’s health care provider in Haiti.
Dr. Paul Farmer’s Partners in Health works on better health care in Haiti, including birth control.
Marie Stopes International is one of the few dedicated women’s health care providers in Afghanistan.
Happy World Contraception Day to you and yours!
*A caveat for the statistically minded: not all of these comparisons are strictly apples to apples. The ages of women included in each survey may be slightly different, and some surveys only consider women in relationships or those who have had sex at least once. In some places our numbers disagree with the United Nations chart because—as hardcore birth control geeks—we searched for more up-to-date numbers.