Are married women really the only ones who need family planning?

LisbethVogensenBy: Lisbeth Vogensen*

One common indicator used in many family planning and sexual and reproductive health research documents is that of unmet need for contraception/family planning (see Figure 1). In most cases, this unmet need indicator is followed by this description: percentage of women aged 15 to 49 who are married or in a union (1). Running into this indicator not only makes the feminist inside me stand up in protest, it also lets me know that the information presented on unmet need is incomplete. This unmet need data that only includes women who are married (2) is then generalized to be representative of the entire country/region/world.

Figure 1: Percentage of women with an unmet need for family planning (any method) among those aged 15 to 49 who are married or in a union: most recent data available


Source: World Contraceptive Patterns 2013 (United Nations, 2013), available from

Why particularly married women? What about the remaining approximately 53% of the fertile female population who are not married and do not consider themselves in a union? Obviously, they are not supposed to have sex at all.

This equals a tremendous misrepresentation of the true unmet need in a population. One could argue that married women have a lesser need for family planning since it is assumed they want/have to bear children and would only require family planning methods to space out pregnancies or to “close the factory”. One could, as well, argue that unmarried women and adolescents have a greater need for family planning methods since they are more likely to want to prevent pregnancy.

So, after reading this, would you believe that Bolivia has a 20% unmet need for family planning (3)?


* Lisbeth Vogensen is a Public Health researcher at the Institute for Advanced Development Studies (INESAD), La Paz, Bolivia.


(1) World Bank example:

(2) “Married women” includes those in a union.

(3) Instituto Nacional de Estadística (INE). Encuesta nacional de demografía y salud 2008 (ENDSA). Ministerio de Salud y Deportes. 2009. Accessed at





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  1. Chastity is a better solution for unmarried women.

  2. Thank you so much for this arietlc, it saved me time!

  3. Hey, I thought this was a “Roast,” and you guys took my comment down. What kind of retrograde censorship do you live by. My piece was sardonic, but not offensive to the a presumed audience of adults would who’d read it, a little sardonic of course, but certainly tracking and expanding upon the subject tendered by Lizbeth.

    I thought this forum was for all relevant thought, even humorous jibes on the subject at hand. If someone saw fit to censor my little zinger, then maybe your editors should move to North Korea, sure’ll be a lot of for them there!

    john a. stonich

  4. Yes, Lisbeth, those single women who are engaging in the “S Word” (aka “Sluts” in Republican/Teabagger parlance), are just not supposed to have intercourse (Notice again here the aversion using the real “S Word”) unless, of course it is with a married Senator, Representative, or President (Whereupon the nomenclature changes to an “SS,” i.e., “Super Slut.”) Or, as the Senators like to say, “I just gave that little lady her second ‘S’ today!” “Snicker, haw, honk.”.

    All seriousness aside,this silly idea of providing contraception only for “Honest Women,” aka: Wives, is not only a foolish nod to religion, here and all over the world, but also is functionally absurd when one looks at the ever increasing number of children born without “wedlock.” Here in the States it’s near 40% and is also increasing in most of the “developed,” aka: Hyper-Exploiting, nations. So if the idea is to stop overpopulation and all the damage that is doing, one would think that the promotion of contraception wouldn’t leave out 40% of the breeders.

    But wait! Could it be that this whole thing isn’t about overpopulation at all??? Could it be that these warped “conservatives” are just out to control women’s sex lives???? Jeez, no one would do that, would they???

    Now to be fair, I think we’ll need to put some good Washington spin on this, don’t you think? I mean, maybe this is just a fine, progressive effort to really liberate unmarried women,liberate them, that is, from having to use all those annoying latex things, pills, plastic inserts, messy, foams, gels and creams, etc. Just think of it all as a grand offering of “Free-Range Sex” for all the lucky single women out there; sure sounds good to me, particularly cause as a guy, I CAN’T get pregnant; who knew?

    Of course this does present the question of whether the Republican/Teabagger Alliance people are at all willing to assist with the care, feeding, education, etc. of all the babies that will result. This one kinda stumps me right now, so let’s just take some time out, go to Alaska and ask Sarah Palin for some clarification; she’s really good at that!



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