Myth Busting Contraception: How Much Do We Really Know?
Victoria Stokes takes a look at some common contraception myths.
Women on the internet took a collective gasp in January of this year when it was revealed that the traditional seven day break from the pill isn’t necessary. In case you missed it, the NHS confirmed that, despite what we’ve been told for the past 60 years, there’s no health benefit from taking a seven-day hormone-free break and it’s simply not essential. As it turns out, the idea that you need a gap between pill packets was devised by John Rock who hoped that the Pope would accept the pill if it more closely resembled a woman’s natural cycle. That myth has persisted to this very day and it means women have been suffering the brutal pain of period cramps, mood swings, and all those other grisly PMS symptoms unnecessarily.
This got us to thinking about what other contraception myths we believe and blindly accept as fact. What do we believe without question? What are we not being told about our birth control? Knowledge is power, so here’s a few contraception myths that need to stay in the realm of fiction where they belong.
Emergency contraception is only effective three times
We definitely heard this one bandied about the school yard. While we’re not sure where exactly this urban myth originated from, we can confirm that it’s not true. There’s no limit to the amount of times you can use the morning after pill, but obviously if you’re relying on it on the regular, there are better birth control options out there. If you’ve had unprotected sex in the past five days, the copper coil is a good one. You can have it inserted after you’ve take an oral emergency contraceptive and it will work as a regular method of birth control for up to five years. Now you know.
The pill makes you gain weight
Oh, this old chestnut. The pill weight gain conundrum has often been cited as a reason for figure-conscious women not choosing hormonal birth control, but here’s the truth: the pill pack doesn’t actually make you pack on the pounds. A recent study by the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare (FSRH) concluded that women gain weight over time, regardless of whether or not they’re on the pill. “After looking at all the studies available, we can say that average weight gain during use of contraceptive pills, the implant and the hormonal coil is modest and is not significantly different to weight gain with no contraception or non-hormonal contraception,” explained FSRH’s Dr Sarah Hardman. So there you have it, turns out it’s not the pill that’s making us gain weight, just our regular old eating habits. Oh.
You can’t get pregnant straight away after quitting your birth control
Eh, wrong. In fact, we know several new mums who can attest that this isn’t the case. When it comes to quitting any form of contraception, there’s no grace period where you exist on some magical, invincible plane. Your body doesn’t need time to clear out the birth control hormones. In fact, in a study of 200 women who took birth control pills for at least a year, 40 percent had a period or became pregnant just one month after they stopped taking the pill. Basically? Your body is pretty adept at returning to normal, and some women are actually at their most fertile immediately after quitting their regular contraception, so if you don’t want to get pregnant, find alternative birth control and don’t take the risk.
Contraception affects your long term fertility
Reckon you need to take a break from the pill or other hormonal contraception every couple of years so your fertility stays intact? This myth is so pervasive that researchers have identified fear of infertility as a key reason for women avoiding effective forms of contraception. Here’s some good news, being on the pill, or other hormonal contraception for that matter, doesn’t make it harder to get pregnant in the long run. Sometimes it can take a little while for your hormones to return to normal once you quit, which can cause a delay for women trying to get pregnant. This doesn’t mean that your fertility has been permanently affected, just that your body is in the process of adjusting. Bottom line: every body is different. While some women might be fully fertile almost immediately, others may need to wait a while for the delicate balance of their hormones to slot back into place.
The pull out method is effective
Look, we’re not going to lie to you. You might get lucky and you might not get pregnant, but practicing the pull out method as a way to prevent pregnancy is far from failsafe. Never mind the fact that it’s hard to time things to a fraction of a second in the heat of the moment and the risk of STIs, there’s also the whole pre-ejaculate issue to worry about. Just use a condom.
The implant can move around your body
Sometimes people can be a bit squemish about the contraceptive implant, but there’s nothing to be grossed out about. It’s simply a small rod-shaped device that’s inserted in the upper arm which releases a steady dose of progestin, and contrary to popular believe it doesn’t move around under your skin; you’re not going to wake up one morning and find it next to your elbow. It can shift a tiny bit, but don’t worry, it’s protected by a web of interconnecting strands of collagen and elastin, so it’s not going far.
The pill puts hormones into your body
It does, so does any other form of hormonal birth control. Thing is, it’s not putting in anything that isn’t already there. People often cite ‘needing a break from all the hormones’ as a reason to take a break from their contraceptive, but really there’s no evidence to suggest that’s necessary.
The rhythm method is totally reliable
The rhythm method has grown in popularity in the past number of years. There are even a slew of fertility apps out there to help you practice it. For the uninitiated, it’s simply calculating the days of the month you’re most likely to get pregnant and abstaining from sex on those days. It’s done by tracking a woman’s menstrual cycle, monitoring basal body temperature and noting changes to cervical mucus. Not surprisingly, it’s only 76 percent effective at preventing pregnancy, and last year, one app, Natural Cycles, faced a lawsuit after 37 women claimed they’d fallen pregnant while relying on the app. Couple all that with the fact you can only do the deed on certain days of the month, and it’s a no from us.
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