Psychological determinants of contraceptive use were investigated in Great Britain and Germany, using national data obtained in 1992. It was hypothesised that current contraceptive use among sexually active, fertile women aged 15-45 was related to their attitude towards the various contraceptive methods, social influences, perceptions of being able to use a method correctly and consistently, a correct estimation of fertility, and communication with their partner. Effects of age and country were also taken into account.
The attitude of respondents towards the various contraceptive methods was ambivalent and no method was seen as ideal. On medical methods (OCs, IUDs and sterilisation) many respondents expressed doubts as to their safety for health. Social influences most frequently concerned the use of OCs. Respondents considered themselves able to use oral contraceptives correctly, but expressed general fear about intrauterine devices and sterilisation, and many women believed they were not able to use condoms and periodic abstinence consistently.
Multifactorial analyses revealed that current contraceptive use was principally determined by social influences, attitude and self-efficacy with respect to medical methods. Age and country, and, for use of unreliable methods, fertility awareness also played a role. Communication with the partner was less relevant.
Contraceptive choice (and the use of non-medical methods) depended greatly on encouragement to use and being in favour of medical methods. A lack of social support for use of medical methods and a negative attitude towards them was related to higher use rates of condoms, periodic abstinence, withdrawal and reliance on ‘luck’. In the case of withdrawal and/or no method, underestimation of fertility played an additional role.
Contraceptive choice appears to be determined more by a general like or dislike of medical methods rather than on a weighing of the merits of individual available methods.