DOI: 10.1177/00243639231212440 ISSN: 0024-3639

Evaluating Pregnancy Rates in Fertility Awareness-Based Methods for Family Planning: Simulated Comparison of Correct Use to Avoid, Method-Related, and Total Pregnancy Rates

Joseph B. Stanford, Marguerite Duane, Rebecca Simmons
  • Health Policy
  • Philosophy

Fertility awareness-based methods (FABMs), also known as natural family planning (NFP), enable couples to identify the days of the menstrual cycle when intercourse may result in pregnancy (“fertile days”), and to avoid intercourse on fertile days if they wish to avoid pregnancy. Thus, these methods are fully dependent on user behavior for effectiveness to avoid pregnancy. For couples and clinicians considering the use of an FABM, one important metric to consider is the highest expected effectiveness (lowest possible pregnancy rate) during the correct use of the method to avoid pregnancy. To assess this, most studies of FABMs have reported a method-related pregnancy rate (a cumulative proportion), which is calculated based on all cycles (or months) in the study. In contrast, the correct use to avoid pregnancy rate (also a cumulative proportion) has the denominator of cycles with the correct use of the FABM to avoid pregnancy. The relationship between these measures has not been evaluated quantitatively. We conducted a series of simulations demonstrating that the method-related pregnancy rate is artificially decreased in direct proportion to the proportion of cycles with intermediate use (any use other than correct use to avoid or targeted use to conceive), which also increases the total pregnancy rate. Thus, as the total pregnancy rate rises (related to intermediate use), the method-related pregnancy rate falls artificially while the correct use pregnancy rate remains constant. For practical application, we propose the core elements needed to assess correct use cycles in FABM studies.

Summary Fertility awareness-based methods (FABMs) can be used by couples to avoid pregnancy, by avoiding intercourse on fertile days. Users want to know what the highest effectiveness (lowest pregnancy rate) would be if they use an FABM correctly and consistently to avoid pregnancy. In this simulation study, we compare two different measures: (1) the method-related pregnancy rate; and (2) the correct use pregnancy rate. We show that the method-related pregnancy rate is biased too low if some users in the study are not using the method consistently to avoid pregnancy, while the correct use pregnancy rate obtains an accurate estimate.

Short Summary:

In FABM studies, the method-related pregnancy rate is biased too low, but the correct use pregnancy rate is unbiased.

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