How good is your knowledge on contraception? Statistics show that even if contraception awareness is on the rise, there are still a lot of important gaps, and many misconceptions persist.
If you are like most young people, your “education” on birth control comes mainly from your friends, and the internet. And you may have learnt valuable things from them! But there is still a lot of misinformation going around, leading in many cases to misunderstandings and unpleasant surprises…
Following are some of the most common myths, rumours and misperceptions regarding birth control that you should know in order to avoid an unplanned pregnancy.
MYTH # 1: I won’t get pregnant if my partner pulls out before he comes
This is one of the most common misconceptions, responsible for many unwanted pregnancies. Also known as the withdrawal method, it has a high rate of contraception failure. This is because some pre-ejaculation fluid (or pre-come) may be released before the man actually ejaculates; this pre-come contains spermatozoids, and it takes only one sperm to get you pregnant! In addition, some men may not have enough self control to withdraw in time…
Keep in mind that pre-ejaculation fluid can also contain sexually transmitted infections, so pulling out will not prevent you from getting an infection.
MYTH # 2: I don’t get pregnant if I have sex during my period
The chances of getting pregnant while on your period are low, but it may happen, mainly in women with shorter cycle –i.e., if you get your period every 21-24 days. In such case, your ovulation occurs around the 10th to 12th day after the beginning of your period. Since sperm can live up to 5 days inside your body, if you have sex towards the end of your period, sperm can wait for the egg to be released and you may become pregnant.
But even in women with longer, regular cycles, the ovulation may eventually take place earlier… So remember, you can get pregnant at any time of the month if you have sex without contraception.
MYTH # 3: The morning after pill is dangerous, you can’t take it more than once or twice in your lifetime
It has been suggested (mostly by internet rumours) that it is dangerous to take the emergency contraception pill more than one or twice in your life. According to the World Health Organisation: “Emergency contraceptive pills are for emergency use only and are not appropriate for regular use as an ongoing contraceptive method because of the higher possibility of failure compared with non-emergency contraceptives. In addition, frequent use of emergency contraception can result in side-effects such as menstrual irregularities, although their repeated use poses no known health risks.” Emergency contraception pills are very safe and do not harm future fertility. Side effects are uncommon and generally mild. Read more about the morning after pill here.
MYTH # 4. I don’t get pregnant if I have sex standing up or if I’m on top
Some women believe that having sex in certain positions, such as standing up, sitting down, or if they jump up and down afterwards, they won’t get pregnant as sperm will be forced out of the vagina. In fact, sperm are very strong swimmers! It has been showed that within 5 minutes, sperm are able to reach the tube, where the fertilisation of the egg takes place, and this happens regardless of the position you have sex in.
There’s no such thing as a “safe” position if you’re having sex without a condom or another form of contraception. There are also no “safe” places to have sex, including the bathtub, the shower or the sea.
MYTH # 5. There are only 3 contraceptive options: the condom, the pill and the IUD
Although these three methods are the best-known, there are 15 different methods of contraception (the available options differ in each country). Unfortunately -for women- there are only two choices for men (the male condom and permanent sterilisation). Women have a choice of about 13 methods, including several of long-acting reversible contraception -this means you don’t need to remember to take it or use it every day or every time you have sex.
MYTH # 6. The IUD is not suitable for teenagers and women without children
In the USA, 44% of adolescent girls ages 15 to 19 have had sexual intercourse. Although most of them have used contraception, teenagers frequently use methods with high failure rates -such as withdrawal, or they incorrectly use more reliable methods -such as the pill. In fact, 8 out of every 10 adolescent pregnancies are unintended.
The intrauterine device (IUD), a small device that is inserted into the uterus, has been traditionally reserved to women who have had children. However, new guidelines issued by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists have changed this old perception: the IUD, together with the contraceptive implant, are considered now first-line contraceptive options for sexually active adolescents and young women, as they are the most effective reversible contraceptives for preventing unintended pregnancy, with about 99% effectiveness.
Of course, the IUD and the implant do not protect against sexually transmitted infections, therefore you should also use condoms for that purpose.
MYTH # 7. You can’t get pregnant if it’s the first time you have sex, or if you don’t have an orgasm
These persistent misconceptions are, unfortunately, still responsible for many unplanned pregnancies. If the intercourse takes place during your fertile period, you may become pregnant, whether it’s the first or the hundredth time you’ve had sex, whether you liked it or not.
MYTH # 8. Two condoms are better than one
Condoms may occasionally break. Many people think that using two condoms (also known as “double bagging”) is safer than using one. Actually, it’s exactly the opposite: using two condoms causes friction between them, increasing the risk of breakage. Thus, two condoms should not be used, neither for pregnancy prevention or for safer sex; this is also true for using a male and a female condom at the same time. When used properly, a male condom is 98% effective at preventing pregnancy, a female condom is 95% effective.
MYTH # 9. I can use any lubricant together with the condom
During intercourse, adding lubricant may ease penetration, so sex is pleasurable and not painful. This is important when, for many reasons (such as stress, medications, taking the pill, etc) the natural wetness of the genital area is reduced.
Lubricants can be made from water, oil, petroleum or silicone; however, when using condoms, water-based lubricants should be used: oil-based products such as petroleum jelly, creams, or baby oil and can damage the latex and make the condom more likely to split, resulting in no contraceptive protection.
Silicone-based lubricants are a newer form of lubrication; they are safe to use with condoms. However, they can be harder to wash off and may cause irritation.
MYTH # 10. If you take the pill for many years, you won’t be able to have children in the future
This is another very common misconception. After stopping the oral contraceptive pill you may get pregnant immediately, but sometimes it may take two or three cycles for your fertility to fully return, no matter how long you have been using it. Some studies have shown that, within a year after going off the pill, 80% of women trying to get pregnant will get pregnant – exactly like women who were never on the pill.
MYTH #11. You don’t get pregnant if you douche right after sex
Vaginal douching (washing out the vagina) after sex won’t help to prevent a pregnancy. Again, this has to do with spermatozoa being fast swimmers. By the time a woman starts douching, sperm are already well inside the uterine cervix, where no douching solution can reach them.
In fact, you should never douche: douching can lead to many health problems, including problems getting pregnant, vaginal infections and sexually transmitted infections.
MYTH #12. I’m breastfeeding so I can’t get pregnant
While you’re less fertile when breastfeeding, you may become pregnant; there is no accurate way to predict when fertility returns, even if you breastfeed exclusively. You may not menstruate for several months after giving birth, but at some point you will have your first ovulation -where you can get pregnant- and this will occur two weeks before you get your first period.
Thus, when nursing you should use birth control if you wish to avoid pregnancy.
MYTH # 13. You’re only fertile one day a month
If you have a regular cycle of 28 days, the ovulation usually occurs the 14th day of your cycle. But it’s not only that day that you are fertile. As said before, sperm can live in the cervix for up to 5 days, waiting for the egg to be released. Studies have shown that most pregnancies result from intercourse that takes place during a six-day period ending on the day of ovulation. Once the egg leaves the ovary, in about 24 hours it dies, and the fertile period is over.
However, even in women with a perfectly regular cycle, the hormonal balance involved in the ovulation process can be disrupted by many factors: stress, medications, etc, leading to an earlier or delayed ovulation. Thus, trying to avoid a pregnancy by just having intercourse on the “safe” days can be difficult and may eventually result in an unwanted pregnancy.
MYTH # 14. I don’t need a condom because I’m taking the pill
A survey conducted in France showed that “…one in ten young women ages 15 to 20 is not aware that the pill does not protect against HIV and sexually transmitted infections”. In fact, the only contraceptive method that offers protection against STIs is the condom. Even other barrier methods, such as the diaphragm, do not to keep bacteria out of the vagina, and the pill and IUD offer no STI protection at all.
The bottom line:
Don’t be afraid to talk to a doctor about birth control! True, discussing contraception and sexual practices with a healthcare professional may be embarrassing… but it’s better to discuss ways to prevent an unintended pregnancy rather than dealing with one after it happened!
You can do your research before scheduling an appointment -there are many good sites to learn useful information about birth control – but a doctor will help you decide which is the best contraceptive method for you, and how to use it in a proper way.
Knowledge is empowerment! Learn your choices, be aware of the dangers of irresponsible sexual practices, be the advocate for your own sexual health!
Find out more about contraception here:
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, USA. Contraception
National Health System, UK. Your contraception Guide
FPA UK. My contraception tool
Intro: evoke.ie; 1: your-life.com; 2: aboutgettingpregnant.com; 3: keepcalm-o-matic.co.uk; 4: pinterest.com; 5: xonecole.com; 6: teenplaybook.org; 7: geekandjock.com; 8: contraception.about.com; 9: hackcrow.com; 10: telegraph.co.uk; 11: aliexpress.com; 12: fidias.net; 13: dailymail.co.uk; 14: blog.path.org; bottom line: contraception-about.com.