March 2010

Perceptions of the safety of oral contraceptives among a predominantly Latina population in Texas

Grossman D, Fernández L, Hopkins K, Amastae J, Potter JE. Perceptions of the safety of oral contraceptives among a predominantly Latina population in Texas. Contraception. 2010 Mar;81(3):254-60

Background: Fear of side effects and previous negative experiences are common reasons for contraceptive nonuse.

Study Design: We collected information about perceptions of oral contraceptive (OC) safety from 1271 women 18-49 years old in El Paso, TX, and compared their responses to a medical evaluation by a nurse practitioner. We also asked participants about their interest in obtaining OCs over the counter (OTC).

Results: Among 794 women potentially at risk of unintended pregnancy, 56.0% said that OCs were medically safe for them. Reasons given for OCs being unsafe were related to fears of side effects and prior negative experiences rather than true contraindications. Older women and participants recruited at the less affluent recruitment site were significantly more likely to report that OCs were medically unsafe for them (p<.05). Nonusers who thought OCs were medically unsafe for them were as likely to be medically eligible for use as current hormonal users. Among nonusers or nonhormonal users and potential OC candidates (n=601), 60.2% said they would be more likely to use OCs if they were available OTC.

Conclusions: Women's perception of OC safety does not correlate well with medical eligibility for use. More education about the safety and health benefits of hormonal contraception is needed. OTC availability might contribute to more positive safety perceptions of OCs compared to a prescription environment.