Peers’ beliefs influence birth control use in rural Kenya

pack of birth control pills
Throughout sub-Saharan Africa, a high percentage of women want to stop or delay childbearing but aren’t using birth control. Fear about side effects— real or perceived—is an important barrier to using birth control. One such fear is that contraception causes infertility. Bixby member Erica Sedlander and colleagues conducted the first known study exploring whether the belief that birth control causes infertility is linked with use.

Researchers asked people in two rural villages in Kilifi County, Kenya, to fill out a survey and nominate other people from their village so they could link them with their social networks. They found that believing the myth that birth control causes infertility reduced the odds that someone used birth control. If their social network held the belief, their odds of using contraception were even lower.

To reduce the unmet need for contraception in rural Kenya, it’s important to debunk this myth and to educate women about the real causes of infertility. However, people often don’t make rational decisions based on information alone. These findings suggest that peer influences might have a larger effect on behavior than individual attitudes and beliefs.

It calls for a multilevel approach to debunk this myth, with people’s social networks as a key target. Leveraging the role of key opinion leaders and mobilizing community health workers could help shift these norms. These findings also highlight how beliefs about fertility and contraception are connected. A more person-centered, rights-based approach that includes everything from preventing pregnancy to reaching fertility goals is critical.