You’ve probably heard it by now- the best way to prevent unintended pregnancy is to not have sex.
The next best way is to use birth control and to educate yourself about your birth control options to ensure you’re using the method that’s right for you.
Many young men and women have misconceptions about birth control. Here is a list of common MYTHS you may want to read to make sure you know what’s true about birth control.
- Birth control makes you gain weight.
“I don’t want to get fat!” is a very common concern among people using birth control. One of the most common questions asked at the Annex is: “Will birth control make me gain weight?” We usually tell young women something like, “Birth control will not magically add pounds or fat to your body, but hormones can affect your appetite, which may lead to weight gain.” Yes, a 2009 study in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology did find that women using Depo-Provera (the birth control shot) gained an average of 11 pounds over three years. However, research findings combining 49 studies on many varieties of birth control showed that birth control is not linked to weight gain. If you’re concerned about gaining weight, tell an Annex nurse or provider. We may be able to help you with managing appetite changes while on birth control or talk to you about changing your birth control method if you feel your method may be causing you to eat more calories than you need.
- You don’t need to use birth control if you’re breastfeeding.
Many women think if they have an infant and their breastfeeding, they won’t get pregnant again. NOT true! If you breastfeed sometimes, but use formula at others, you definitely run a risk of becoming pregnant if you have unprotected sex. While it is true that there are forms of birth control that you should not use when you’re breastfeeding (e.g., hormonal birth control that releases estrogen, which can cause lactation to drop off), there are options that are safe. Pills that are progestin only (sometimes called the “mini pill”) and non-hormonal methods of birth control are options that are totally okay if you are breastfeeding. Talk with an Annex nurse or provider for more information.
- Emergency contraception (the “morning after” pill) is an “abortion pill.”
One tactic that opponents to emergency contraception often use to scare women away from the “morning after” pill or “Plan B” is to characterize it as an “abortion pill.” Here’s the thing: Emergency contraception literally cannot terminate/end an existing pregnancy. “Morning after” pills work by trying to impede fertilization (by making it harder for sperm to move, for example) and/or ovulation (keeping an egg from being released). If pregnancy has already occurred, emergency contraception can’t work. You don’t get pregnant the second a condom breaks, or you forget to take the pill—it takes a little time (though not a ton), which is why you’ve got a window of less than 120 hours or 5 days to take emergency contraception. The “morning after” pill isn’t something you should use as your go-to form of birth control (there’s a reason it’s not called “Plan A”), but it is a good thing to keep on hand should your regular method of birth control fail.
- I can’t get pregnant while on my period.
There is always a chance of pregnancy with unprotected sex. It may be less likely that you would become pregnant while on your period, but the truth is, if there is an egg involved, the sperm can meet the egg and create a baby. Sperm can live in the female body for at least 5 days. If you’re on your period during sexual intercourse, you still have 5 more days after the sexual encounter that your ovary could release an egg and a pregnancy could happen. The only way to ensure you don’t get pregnant is to not have sex. The best protection against pregnancy is to use birth control and a condom correctly, every time!
- Being on the Pill for a long time makes it harder to have a baby when you’re ready.
It’s common to believe you can’t get pregnant for a while after you stop taking birth control, but it IS possible to become pregnant as soon as you go off of birth control. Yes, it may take time for you to conceive, but you could also conceive right away. The major takeaway here is that being on birth control now should not impact your plans for having children later—contraception won’t impact your fertility.
- It’s unhealthy to skip your period.
It seems natural to have your period every month, but in reality, if you haven’t ovulated, you don’t need to have a period. Many forms of birth control prevent ovulation. The period you get when you take the placebo or reminder pills? It’s not even a “real” period—it’s just your body going through withdrawal from not having the estrogen and progestin that come with most hormonal birth control methods. If you’re a healthy nonsmoker (which you should be, if you’re on hormonal birth control), you’re probably totally okay skipping a period (or two, or more). Skipping periods while on birth control will not impact your ability to get pregnant after stopping birth control.
- Sometimes your body needs a break from birth control.
As you’re healthy, there’s no medical reason why your body needs a vacation from birth control. Remember too that if you do give yourself a “break” and you’re sexually active, you’re at risk of becoming pregnant (see #5). If you are concerned about the potential effects of taking birth control long-term, talk to a provider at the Annex. It’s not a bad idea to reassess your contraception needs every year anyway, as your needs and lifestyle change, not to mention as new options become available.
- IUDs are only for women who are done having children.
Actually, IUDs (intrauterine devices) are an extremely effective form of birth control (99 percent effective, as a matter of fact), and can work for everybody. A 2013 study published in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology specifically recommends IUDs as a safe, effective option for sexually active teens and young adults. Though doctors in the past believed that IUDs were dangerous for teens, this study found (as others have) that IUDs aren’t terribly risky for women of any age. That may be one reason why, according to numbers from the Guttmacher Institute, the use of IUDs and implants has nearly doubled since 2007. The idea that IUDs are only for when you’re “finished” with your family may have stuck around simply because IUDs can last so long. Copper IUDs (like Paragard) prevent fertilization without hormones, and can last up to twelve years. IUDs that use progestin (like Mirena and Skyla) don’t even make it half that long, but that still means they remain effective for years. Though they do not provide protection against STIs, IUDs are a solid choice when it comes to contraception.
- An IUD will puncture your uterus.
If you watch late night TV, chances are you’ve seen scary ads that make it seem like women are constantly being injured by IUDs (and that certain brands, like Mirena, have a higher incidence of problems). This can make it sound like an IUD is a pretty risky idea (see #8—it’s not). Research has found that IUD perforations/punctures do happen, but it’s at a rate of 0.4 per 1,000 insertions—and it’s even more rare that there are any severe or lasting complications. No brand has a higher rate of perforations than others. Though many women do experience pain and cramping when an IUD is inserted, having the IUD puncture your uterus is very unlikely. If you’re worried about it, talk with an Annex provider about your concerns. After your insertion, schedule a follow-up appointment in a month or so to double-check that everything’s okay and give you peace of mind.
- Access to birth control leads to more unplanned pregnancies.
This is probably the biggest myth of all, and one that is used over and over again as a reason to restrict women’s access to birth control. Yet study after study shows that it’s simply not true. Researchers at the Center for Disease Control found that the national abortion rate has dropped five percent in the past year. Coincidence? Nope. The Affordable Care Act has made birth control much more accessible, therefore reducing the number of unintended pregnancies and abortions.
Information adapted from http://www.lifehack.org/articles/lifestyle/busting-12-common-birth-control-myths.html