The sixth most populous country, Pakistan's modern contraceptive use rate is just 25%. Of the multiple reasons for avoiding contraceptives, women cite side effects as a significant deterrent to contraceptive uptake. Efforts to understand these side effects are limited by overreliance on the biomedical framework, which typically dismisses some of women's negative experiences and explanatory models as misperceptions. Drawing on 13 months of ethnographic data from a village in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan, our study sought to provide an emic description of contraceptive side effects. Respondents’ described what we call “spiritual” and “somatic” side effects. While the latter included experiences such as irregular bleeding and leg pain, spiritual side effects had more severe implications ranging from job loss, birth defects, to child death. In a context of a firm belief that family planning was a sin, contraceptives were believed to negatively impact spiritual well‐being and invite God's wrath. Our data suggest these perceptions and experiences played a crucial role in contraceptive decision‐making. The spiritual and somatic experiences of contraceptive use described by respondents also demonstrate the importance of broadening dominant biomedical approaches to holistically understand contraceptive side effects and usage.
Published in a peer-reviewed journal of the Population Council.