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Aust N Z J Obstet Gynaecol. 1991 Aug;31(3):201-8.

Trends in contraception and sterilization in Australia.

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  • 1National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health, Australian National University, Canberra, ACT.


Life-history data collected in a national survey of women in 1986 are used to derive the first national estimates of trends in contraception and sterilization in Australia over the last 30 years. The pill rapidly became the method of choice after its release in 1961. The intrauterine device, the other truly modern method, has never attained the same popularity. The move toward sterilization dates from the early 1970s and has been so complete that women of 35 or older are now more likely to be protected by a ligation or laparoscopic sterilization than by the pill or, indeed, by all other methods combined. Unmarried women are now indistinguishable from married women on the basis of their use of contraception, and childless married women are now more likely to be using a reversible method than married women with children.


This article presents data -- the first of its kind -- on national trends in contraception and sterilization in Australia from 1956-86. As part of a life-history survey of Australian women, researchers interviewed 2,547 women aged 20-59, collecting data on the use of contraception over time. The data indicates that use of traditional methods of contraception (withdrawal, periodic abstinence, etc.) was most common among the oldest women. However, no more than 12% of any age group relied on traditional methods. The use of modern methods has increased more rapidly than the use of traditional methods has declined. Since their introduction in 1961, oral contraceptives quickly became the preferred method. In 1986, 1/2 of all women in their early 20s were using oral contraceptives, as well as 2/5 of women in their late 20s, and 1/4 of the women in their early 30s. The data indicates that the younger the woman, the less likely she is to have relied on a contraceptive method other than the pill. Another important development concerns the reliance on sterilization, which began in the early 1970s. Among women 35 and older, reliance on sterilization has surpassed the use of oral contraceptives. In 1986, 35% of women 40-44 had received a tubal ligation and 11% had undergone a hysterectomy. Also, 16% of these women had partners who had undergone a vasectomy. Condoms and other coitus-related methods were not found to be very popular. However, the study does point out that the use of condoms for noncontraceptive reasons (STDs and AIDS prevention) could increase. Finally, the study revealed no difference in contraceptive use between married and unmarried women, but did show that childless women were more likely to use a reversible contraceptive than women with children.

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