7 Surprising Facts About Birth Control Around the World

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If you've ever travelled or lived abroad, you may have received some strange advice: bring your own condoms.

But what's wrong with condoms abroad? How do people avoid getting knocked up overseas? Is that advice just an American superiority complex? 

As it turns out, the UN Population division keeps a database tracking these very questions, and the most recent numbers are in. Click on for seven surprising facts about birth control around the world.

Because What's More Interesting Than Other People's Sex Lives?

If you've ever travelled or lived abroad, you may have received some strange advice: bring your own condoms.

But what's wrong with condoms abroad? How do people avoid getting knocked up overseas? Is that advice just an American superiority complex? 

As it turns out, the UN Population division keeps a database tracking these very questions, and the most recent numbers are in. Click on for seven surprising facts about birth control around the world.

Contraceptive Use Keeps Going Up

The small African nation of Chad has the lowest rate of contraceptive usage, at about 4 percent, while Norway has the highest at 88 percent. The numbers differ by region, but according to the UN report: "Globally, contraceptive prevalence is estimated at 63 percent and it is somewhat higher in the more developed regions (72 percent) than in the less developed regions (61 percent), but in both a high proportion of women of reproductive age who are married or in a union are using contraception."

The UN surveys focus on people of reproductive age who are either married or in "a union," which of course has different meanings in different cultures. It's not easy to say for sure, but the World Health Organization believes the increased focus on birth control has had a positive effect on global STI rates and maternal health worldwide. 

The Majority of Contraceptive-Using Women Have Their Tubes Tied

Yup, you read that right. Female sterilization is the most popular form of birth control on the planet, at 19 percent. 

But IUDs Come In As A Close Second

The Intra-Uterine Device (IUD) carries a solid 15 percent of the birth control-using world.

According to UN analysis in 2010: "The IUD is most commonly used in Asia and its prevalence is highest...In addition, levels of IUD use range between 30 percent and 40 percent in Israel, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan. The prevalence of IUD use is also high in a few countries in other regions, including Cuba, Egypt and Estonia."

Why? Reasons vary by country, but researchers say IUDs last longer than a pill or condom, work better, and ultimately cost less.

(Image: Flickr)

Post-Soviet Countries Used IUDs to Replace Abortion-Centric Family Planning

When the Guttmacher Institute on Reproductive Health investigated the popularity of the IUD, they looked to the Central Asian state of Uzbekistan as a case study. In that country, IUDs actually replaced abortion as the "one-method family planning regime" most prevalent across the Soviet Union. The authors write that "since Uzbekistan's independence in 1991, the country's extensive state-sanctioned family planning programs have been associated with reduced reliance on abortion and dramatic increases in contraceptive use." 

Uzbekistan is a case study for the region, if not the world: Eastern Europe has the highest incidence of abortion, while rates elsewhere have stalled.

(Image: Flickr)

Injectables Dominate in Eastern and Southern Africa

Injectable hormones (think: the Depo-Provera shot) tend to be most popular in certain regions of Africa. 

According to epidemiologists Caitlin Gerdts and Divya Vohra, "By simply getting a shot once every three months, women who live far from health-care facilities have a reliable way to prevent unwanted pregnancies. Also, for women who feel they cannot or do not want to let their male partners know they are on birth control, Depo-Provera is a discreet and appealing option."

The Gates Foundation is trying to convince even more women to start using this form of birth control by investing in new forms of injectables, which won't require a medical practitioner to administer.

(Image: Flickr)

'Developed' Countries May Not Be On the Cutting Edge

Many so-called "developed countries" like the United States rely on shorter-term (and often less effective) means of birth control. In the UN's words: "In developed countries as a whole, the most commonly used methods are the pill (used by 18 percent of women of reproductive age who are married or in a union) and the male condom (with 18 percent prevalence). Those two methods accounted for half of all contraceptive use in the developed countries, while less than one out of every four users in developed countries relied on female sterilization or the IUD." 

Contraceptive Use Is Almost Never Considered a Male Problem

OK, so maybe this one this isn't such a surprise: Male sterilization doesn't even make the UN's list, and only 5 percent of men worldwide use condoms.

That's too bad, because in addition to preventing pregnancy, male condoms tend to be inexpensive, discreet, and effective at preventing sexually transmitted diseases. To stem the tide of new HIV infection, healthcare experts say that condom usage needs to double.

The Gates Foundation is trying to change this too, with a well-publicized competition to create a better condom and a focus on convincing men to stop resisting them.

And as for whether or not condoms are just as effective when you travel abroad? Well, that largely depends on  where  you're going, and if they're widely available.