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Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2011 Mar 16;(3):CD007249. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD007249.pub3.

Theory-based interventions for contraception.

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Clinical Sciences, FHI, P.O. Box 13950, Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, USA, 27709.

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The explicit use of theory in research helps expand the knowledge base. Theories and models have been used extensively in HIV-prevention research and in interventions for preventing sexually transmitted infections (STIs). The health behavior field uses many theories or models of change. However, educational interventions addressing contraception often have no stated theoretical base.


Review randomized controlled trials (RCTs) that tested a theoretical approach to inform contraceptive choice; encourage contraceptive use; or promote adherence to, or continuation of, a contraceptive regimen.


We searched computerized databases for trials that tested a theory-based intervention for improving contraceptive use (MEDLINE, POPLINE, CENTRAL, PsycINFO, EMBASE,, and ICTRP). We also wrote to researchers to find other trials.


Trials tested a theory-based intervention for improving contraceptive use. We excluded trials focused on high-risk groups and preventing sexually transmitted infections or HIV. Interventions addressed the use of one or more contraceptive methods for contraception. The reports provided evidence that the intervention was based on a specific theory or model. The primary outcomes were pregnancy, contraceptive choice, initiating or changing contraceptive use, contraceptive regimen adherence, and contraception continuation.


The primary author evaluated abstracts for eligibility. Two authors extracted data from included studies. We calculated the odds ratio for dichotomous outcomes. No meta-analysis was conducted due to intervention differences.


Fourteen RCTs met our inclusion criteria. In 2 of 10 trials with pregnancy or birth data, a theory-based group showed better results. Four of 10 trials with contraceptive use data (other than condoms) showed better outcomes in an experimental group. For condom use, a theory-based group had favorable results in three of eight trials. Social Cognitive Theory was the main theoretical basis for five trials, of which three showed positive results. Two based on other social cognition models had favorable results, as did two of four focused on motivational interviewing. Thirteen trials provided multiple sessions or contacts. Of seven effective interventions, five targeted adolescents, including four with group sessions. Three effective trials had individual sessions. Seven trials were rated as having high or moderate quality; three of those had favorable results.


Family planning researchers and practitioners could adapt the effective interventions. Reproductive health needs high-quality research on behavior change, especially for clinical and low-resource settings. More thorough use of single theories would help, as would better reporting on research design and intervention implementation.

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