Contraception

Common Birth Control Myths, Busted

According to the Guttmacher Institute, approximately 62 million american women in their childbearing years (between the ages of 15– and 44-years old). The U.S. Centers for Disease Control claim that, if you’re a woman who is sexually active, the most effective way to reduce the risk of unintended pregnancy is to use a consistent and effective birth control contraceptive method.

When it comes to effectively using birth control, it’s vital to get your facts straight before you end up with an unplanned pregnancy or a sexually transmitted disease. That’s why we’re busting the ten most commonly spread birth control myths…

Birth Control Pills Increase the Risk of Breast Cancer

According to reports by the National Cancer Institute, when it comes to using oral contraceptives (the birth control pill) and increased risk of cancer, most recent studies show that’s not the case. For instance, studies show that women taking oral contraceptives actually have a reduced risk of ovarian and endometrial cancers, and this protection increases as pill use duration increases. Studies also show that oral contraceptive use doesn’t necessarily increase the risk of cervical cancer when you consider that sexually active women, in general, have a higher risk of contracting human papillomavirus, which can lead to cervical cancer.

Although some studies suggest that there may be a slight link between the pill and breast cancer among younger women–they also prove that once you discontinue use of birth control pills for 10 or more years, that slight risk returns to normal. The National Cancer Institute claims that the link between oral contraceptives and malignant liver tumors is also unproven. So although breast cancer can develop due to hormones, the studies clear birth control pills of being a direct cause of cancer.

The Withdrawal Method is Effective Birth Control

Sperm can be released before full ejaculation. The withdrawal method, or coitus interruptus, requires pulling the penis out of the vagina prior to ejaculation. The failure rate for withdrawal is roughly 27-percent, according to Contracept.org, an organization focused on the education of safe, healthy sex, and obviously requires quite a bit of discipline and timing on the part of the male partner, who might not withdraw quickly enough to prevent semen from escaping into the vagina.

Although withdrawal requires no devices, chemicals, or has no side effects, the failure rate annually is fairly high, with and estimated 1 in 4 individuals getting pregnant who use withdrawal as their only form of birth control. Couples who use the withdrawal method in combination with another form of contraceptives (i.e., contraceptive sponge) still experience a failure rate of roughly 4-percent.

You Won’t Get Pregnant the First Time

Attention teenage girls: The chances of you getting pregnant during your first sexual experience are just as high on your first time as they are on your second, fifth, tenth, and fiftieth time. This means that if you happen to get wind of the urban myth that you can’t get pregnant the first time you have sex, don’t buy into it.

According to 2014 statistics from the Guttmacher Institute, the average teen becomes sexually active roughly at age 17. Less than 2-percent of adolescents have had sex prior to age 12. And although this indicates that young adults are waiting longer now compared to in the past to have sex (from 2006 to 2008, 11-percent of females and 14-percent of males indicated having sex before the age of 15-years old), sex without protection can still increase the risk for unintended pregnancy and STIs regardless of age.

Douching After Sex Prevents Pregnancy

If you’re a teen, you’ve likely gotten your first facts (or mis-facts) about sex, pregnancy, and birth control from your friends as opposed to your parents or doctor. Unfortunately, even though much of that information may be based on fact, much of it can still be false rumors and urban legends. One of the biggest sexual myths circulating amongst teens is regarding douching after sex to prevent pregnancy. To be precise, many young women believe that if they douche, or wash out the vagina with liquid after intercourse, they can prevent pregnancy.

However, the truth of the matter is that a woman who douches directly following sexual intercourse can actually increase their risk of an infection or STD (if you’ve had sex with a partner who is infected). The douching method flushes the vagina with fluids, thus, if bacteria is present, the action forces bacteria up from the lower vagina into the cervix and uterus.

Birth Control Pills Cause Weight Gain

Birth control pills will affect a woman’s hormones, and different women will experience different reactions to medication, i.e., acne, weight gain, weight loss, etc. However, although the pill may cause weight gain for some women who take oral contraceptives, this weight gain is often temporary fluid retention in insignificant amounts. WebMD indicates that after examining over 44 studies focused on birth control pills and weight gain that no evidence was found to indicate that birth control pills cause weight gain for women users.

While weight gain can result as a side effect from taking oral contraceptives for some women, the studies suggest that that weight gain is typically minimal and will return to normal within a few months. However, if you experience sudden weight gain due to taking the pill, talk with your doctor about the possibility of taking a different type of birth control pill. The brand of birth control pill can be altered until you find the one that works best with your body and hormones.

You Won’t Get Pregnant If You Have Sex During Menstruation

Every female has likely heard that you can’t get pregnant when you’re having your period–whether you believed it or not is another story. This method, often dubbed the “rhythm method” attempts to reduce pregnancy risk by having sex on so-called “safe days” or less fertile times during menstrual cycle. However, unfortunately, as a contraceptive measure, the rhythm method isn’t very successful.

According to research from the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), women can get pregnant at any time during her menstrual cycle. Sure, the chances of pregnancy can be higher at certain points during the menstrual cycle. However, pregnancy is always a high possibility. Considering that sperm can survive up to 6 days in the female body, you can get pregnant even if you have intercourse when you’re menstruating.

Birth Control Pills Protect You From STDs

The only thing birth control pills work to prevent is conception (or unintended pregnancy). Oral contraceptives won’t protect you against sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) or sexually transmitted infections (STIs) if you have unprotected sex with a partner who is infected. That’s why it’s always wise to wear a condom during intercourse, in addition to taking consistent oral contraceptives, in order to protect against the spread of STIs and STD infection.

There are several sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) that you can contract if you have unprotected sex with an infected partner–such as HPV (or human papillomavirus, which can lead to cervical cancer), genital warts, chlamydia, gonorrhea, herpes, and HIV (or human immunodeficiency virus, which causes AIDS).

The Pill is Effective Right Away

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the most effective way to reduce the risk of unintended pregnancy if you are a sexually active woman is to use effective birth control correctly and consistently. No matter what form of birth control you are using–oral contraceptives, contraceptive shot, intrauterine contraception, contraceptive patch, or contraceptive implant–it will depend on your correct and consistent usage.

If you take the “the pill,” or oral contraceptives prescribed by a doctor that combine the estrogen and progesterone hormones to prevent unintended pregnancy, it’s vital that you take your pill every day, at the same time each day. Typically, most birth control pills take between 1 week and 1 month before they are effective for preventing pregnancy. A condom is always a wise backup to prevent pregnancy and STDs.

Taking the Pill Causes Pregnancy Difficulties in the Future

Studies show that taking the pill will not affect your future chances of fertility. In fact, a study presented to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, found that women who stop taking oral contraceptives (or birth control pills) when trying to conceive do so just as quickly as those who have never taken the pill prior to attempting to get pregnant.

Study researcher,  Maureen Cronin, MD, PhD, says, “[Even though] the majority of studies suggest there [may be] a slight delay in return to fertility after using birth control pills…of about 6 to 12 months…[this study] found no lag and no substantial differences in pregnancy rates between pill users and nonusers.” This means that if you decide to get pregnant, you may need to stop taking the pill for about a month while the medication leaves your body.

If You Get Pregnant You Can Still Take the Morning After Pill

The “morning after” (i.e., Plan B) will not cause a spontaneous abortion. This emergency-only pill needs to be used within 72-hours of unprotected sexual intercourse, if birth control methods fail, or following a sexual assault. The pill contains levonorgestrel (progestin hormone) and delays ovulation, or prevents fertilization and implantation of the egg within the uterus.

Research published on WebMD indicates that emergency contraceptives, like Plan B One Step, doesn’t have to be taken the morning after sex to prevent unintended pregnancy. In fact, emergency contraceptives are more effective the sooner you take the one-dose regimen, which will either interfere with the fertilization of an egg or delay or prevent ovulation altogether.

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Emily Lockhart

Emily Lockhart is a certified yoga instructor and personal trainer. She believes that being healthy is a lifestyle choice, not a punishment or temporary fix to attain a desired fitness or body image goal. Anna helps her clients take responsibility for their own health and wellness through her classes and articles on ActiveBeat.

Dr. Andrea Eisenberg, MD

Dr. Andrea Eisenberg, MD

Andrea Eisenberg, MD is a board certified OB/GYN in the Metro Detroit area. She has dedicated her life to caring for women through all stages of their lives -- from adolescence, to delivering babies, and later into menopause. Her special interests include minimally invasive surgeries, adolescence, family planning, infertility, and menopause. In her spare time she writes about the human side of medicine on her blog and has several essays published in a variety of journals. To decompress, she enjoys trail running and baking.

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