The annual risk of unintended pregnancy for several different contraceptive methods are given in the table below, taken from the 20th edition of

*Contraceptive Technology*. The effectiveness typically reported by sex education sources is simply 100% minus the annual risk of pregnancy.

I'm not sure how typical use differs from perfect use when it comes to male sterilization... |

It should be noted that "typical use" is perhaps misleading because it is an average for the people reportedly using that contraceptive method. For most contraceptive methods, including the condom and the pill, the most common deviation from "perfect use" is conscious user non-compliance (i.e. knowingly not using the contraception). Not using the contraception shouldn't really count in the typical use, but I guess they just do the best they can with the data they get.

So, suppose you're interested in calculating the risk of pregnancy within a period several years. From the table above, we can get the probability of

*not conceiving*during the first year of use, equal to 100% minus the number from the table. We'll call this number

*p*. The probability of not conceiving during a period of

*n*years of use can be taken as

*p*raised to the

*n*th power. The risk of pregnancy is then calculated as

This simply estimates the risk of getting pregnant at least once during an n-year period while using a certain contraceptive method. The graph below compares a few common contraceptive methods for n = 1 to 10 years.

Comparing the risk of pregnancy using different contraceptive methods. |

The graph shows that if you are not diligent in using the contraceptive method properly (i.e. you stray from "perfect use"), there's a pretty good chance of unintended pregnancy somewhere down the road. There's greater than 50% chance of unintended pregnancy within 8 years of "typical use" with the pill, within 6 years with the Standard Days method, 4 years with the male condom, and 3 years with the withdrawal method. Even with perfect use, if condoms are the only contraceptive method used, there's still about 18.3% chance of an unintended pregnancy in 10 years. That's 1 in 5.47. If you look at a 10-year period, comparing all the methods from the previous table, you'll find that if you use only a single method, only sterilization or IUDs reduce your risk of unintended pregnancy to less than 1 in 2 (i.e. less than 50%), assuming "typical use".

We can estimate the risk of pregnancy when contraceptive methods are combined by combining probabilities as shown in the following equation:

Comparing the risk of pregnancy using different combinations of contraceptive methods. |

As you can see, combining contraceptive methods reduces the risk of unintended pregnancy by a pretty significant margin. If using a single contraceptive method, assuming "typical use", only IUDs or sterilization were effective enough to reduce the risk of unintended pregnancy to less than 50% in 10 years. Combining 2 methods very effectively reduces the risk of unintended pregnancy without resorting to invasive or irreversible medical procedures.

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