BACKGROUD: Contraception is often necessary in order to plan for children and without it there is a risk of unplanned pregnancies. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, this often results in abortions by untrained persons with resultant morbidity and mortality. AIM: To investigate the factors that influence contraceptive use amongst women of childbearing age in the Vanga health zone. METHODS: Cross-sectional survey using interviewer-administered questionnaires. RESULTS: Of the 384 women recruited, a majority (46.1%) were in the 31-40 year age group; 52% had reached primary school and 88% did not have formal employment. One hundred and forty of the participants reported current use of contraception, with 60% of them using modern methods of contraception; 36.1% of them had begun using contraception before the age of 20; and the most common methods were oral contraceptive pills and injection, each accounting for 22.9%. There was variation in the duration of contraceptive use and the main reason for using contraception was to space children. Of the participants, 20.7% had been using contraception for more than two years. Seventy-seven (31.5%) of the women reported they did not use contraception because of a fear of side effects. Forty-four (18%) reported that they are unable to afford contraception, 38 (15.6%) had husbands who disapproved of contraceptive usage, 26 (10.6%) had a fear of infertility, 18 (7.4%) practised a religion that did not allow them to use contraception and 12 of the women (4.9%) did not use contraception because it was unavailable to them. CONCLUSION: Barriers to contraception in our study were fears of side effects and infertility, cost, male partner's objection, unavailability of contraception and religious beliefs.