Traditional contraceptive methods are used by 55 million women in developing countries. This study analysed over 80 national surveys to compare traditional with modern method users, by type, region, socio-demographic characteristics, strength of family planning programmes and discontinuation rates. The advance of modern methods has greatly reduced the share held by traditional methods, but the actual prevalence of their use has declined little. Young, sexually active unmarried women use traditional contraception much more than their married counterparts. Discontinuation rates are somewhat lower for traditional methods than for the resupply methods of the pill, injectable and condom; among users of all of these methods, more than a quarter stop use in the first year to switch to alternative methods. Traditional method use is firmly entrenched in many countries, as the initial method tried, a bridge method to modern contraception and even the primary method where other methods are not easily available.