Pregnancy Prevention on the Fly: An Exploratory Study of Contraceptive Lapse Among Young Women Traveling Internationally

Summer L. Martins, Wendy L. Hellerstedt, Susan M. Mason, Sonya S. Brady

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Background: International travel is increasingly popular, and women comprise half of all outbound travel from the United States (almost 46 million trips in 2017). The implications of international travel for women's reproductive health are not fully clear due to lack of data on travelers' contraceptive use. Methods: Women attending a U.S. university (n = 340) completed a cross-sectional survey in 2016-2017 about their sexual and reproductive health during recent international travel. Participants were 18-29 years old (mean: 21.1) and had a history of male sex partners. We calculated the prevalence of contraceptive lapse - nonadherence (e.g., missed pill) or having sex without contraception - by individual and travel-related characteristics and evaluated multivariable correlates of lapse using modified Poisson regression and prevalence ratios (PRs). Results: Prevalence of contraceptive lapse was 29% overall and especially high among pill users (50%). Multivariable correlates of lapse were the following: using the pill (PR 4.51, 95% confidence interval [CI] 2.57-7.94) compared to other or no contraception; trip duration of >30 days versus 1-7 days (PR 2.02, 95% CI 1.14-3.57); having trouble communicating with a male partner about contraception (PR 1.79, 95% CI 1.16-2.75); a high perceived impact of language barriers (PR 1.77, 95% CI 1.02-3.08); and perceiving local access to abortion as difficult (PR 1.67, 95% CI 1.22-2.27). There was a trend toward increased lapse prevalence among participants who had difficulty maintaining their contraceptive schedule while traveling across time zones (PR 1.38, 95% CI 1.00-1.91). Conclusions: During international travel, prevalence of contraceptive lapse varied by young women's chosen contraceptive method as well as travel-specific factors. Pretravel counseling by clinicians can help women anticipate contraceptive challenges and reduce the likelihood of unintended pregnancy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)951-960
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Women's Health
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was funded by the Division of Epidemiology and Community Health, University of Minnesota School of Public Health. Dr. Martins' efforts on data analysis and article preparation were also supported by the University of Minnesota's Center for Leadership Education in Maternal and Child Public Health (US-DHHS/HRSA T76-MC00005).

Publisher Copyright:
© Copyright 2019, Mary Ann Liebert, Inc.


  • adolescents
  • contraception
  • international travel
  • oral contraceptive pill
  • young adults


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