Most Religious Women Use Contraceptives, Despite Church Prohibitions

A new study from the Guttmacher Institute confirms what many women already know to be true: despite church prohibitions on birth control, contraceptive use and strong religiosity are compatible for most Americans.  The statistics are striking: among all women who have had sex, 99% have ever used a contraceptive method other than natural family planning. “This figure,” the report says, “is virtually the same among Catholic women (98%).”

This is despite the fact that Catholic leaders condemn all forms of pregnancy prevention except for “natural family planning” (i.e., the rhythm method).  And 68% of Catholic women use a “highly effective” method of contraception (the pill, an IUD, sterilization), while only 2% rely exclusively on natural family planning.  Interestingly, too, four in ten evangelical Christians rely on either male or sterilization, a number that is higher than in other religious denominations.

This is not to say that Americans are suddenly becoming less religiously devout – a vast majority of the women surveyed attended church at least once a month, and although evangelical Christians were slightly less likely to have sex before marriage, most unmarried women over the age of 20 had had some form of sexual experience.

So what does this mean?  The Guttmacher Institute is clear about the policy implications that they think should follow.  “Most sexually active women who do not want to become pregnant practice contraception, and most use highly effective methods like sterilization, the pill, or the IUD,” explained Rachel K. Jones, the study’s lead author.  “This is true for Evangelicals and Mainline Protestants, and it is true for Catholics, despite the Catholic hierarchy’s strenuous opposition to contraception.”

The pope has, in a rather confusing manner, loosened the Catholic Church’s stance on condoms in the past few months, saying that while condom use is still not moral, it is a lesser evil than passing on a sexually transmitted disease like HIV/AIDS.  But this doesn’t mean that the church supports contraceptive use, even among married couples, despite the fact that this seems to be what most Catholic women, married or single, are doing.

“Sound public policy making should recognize this and support women by making contraceptives easier and more affordable to use,” said Adam Sonfield, a Guttmacher policy analyst.  “Health policy should not serve as a proxy for religious dogma.”

This study is valuable because it shows that religious women, despite the church’s stance on contraceptives, overwhelmingly use birth control – and that many use “highly effective” forms like the pill or an IUD.  This is yet another piece of evidence for accessible, affordable contraception – which, ironically, is just what the Republicans in Congress have tried so vehemently to strip away.


Photo from Wikimedia Commons.


caterina caligiuri

********** CHURCH MEANS POWER AND PEOPLE CONTROL...THEY SPEACK OF LOVE BUT THEY DON'T KNOW WHAT THIS WORD MEANS...they do not respect others' choises... they do not respect freedom of choice...they respect only god's words...but I don't believe in church's god so..I think that those god's words are not by god but are by church and by thepope...he is a man he is not god...but he only works to have control on people and to let them do what church wants they do...absolutely far from love and respect

Norma V.
Norma Villarreal6 years ago

Power and domination....shouldn't women have some say in reproduction, creativity and family?

Heather A.
Heather A6 years ago

I love this study. According to one of my high school science teachers, the catholic church also funded the invention of the Pill.

Natural family planning sounds like a great way to get in touch with your body (and learning to use a speculum makes gynaecologist appointments much easier to deal with), but I would never consider it as someone who is serious about not becoming pregnant. A 12-25% failure rate is quite the drawback, especially considering how good hormonal birth control has been for my body. Right now, I'm considering an IUD.

Empress Ginger
Ginger Strivelli6 years ago

birth control pills/shots/patches/etc. need to be given away free, no questions asked at all high schools, colleges, health departments, and hospitals. If more women would use birth control then we could cut down on the tragic number of abortions.

Margaret K.
Margaret K6 years ago

Why is a Church dictating on sexual health issues and what exactly is a religious woman? I get more and more angry on hearing about the dictates of these theistic bullies.

Amber M.
Amber Beasley6 years ago

Natural Family Planning is ***NOT*** the rhythm method! I can't stress this enough!
women shouldn't be told what to do by the church, but to me, I wouldn't WANT to take birth control. the side effects and the risks and the hormones.....nuh uh. not happening. I'm an all natural person. I don't wear make up, I use natural products, etc. I don't want to mess up something in me that works perfectly fine. "if it isn't broken don't fix it". I use Natural Family Planning. It is based on each individual woman, not a "generality" of women, or "the average woman", like the rhythm method is. It works. and it's ridiculous to put your body through so much when all you have to do is learn how your natural cycle is.

Rosie Lopez
Rosie Lopez6 years ago

thanks for the article

Alice Ducharme
Alice Ducharme6 years ago

No church should have that much control over people. ie. women

Danielle Herie
Danielle Herie6 years ago

Oh those Catholics

Sara A.
Renee A6 years ago

I agree with Jenna