World Contraception Day 2020: Seven myths about birth control pills, condoms and other methods
The following are a few such myths that need to be done away with for the sake of improved women’s healthcare across the globe
World Contraception Day is observed every year on 26 September since 2007. The World Health Organization (WHO) and many international, governmental and non-governmental organisations observe this day to raise awareness about contraception, family planning and women’s health. The goal of this annual awareness campaign is to enable and empower women to make better reproductive health choices.
There are many types of contraceptives now available across the world, including condoms, oral contraceptive pills, intrauterine devices or IUDs, and injectable contraceptives. Scientists are also developing a once-a-month oral contraceptive pill which might even revolutionise women’s health. There is, unfortunately, still a lack of knowledge and stigma attached to discussions of sexual health, reproductive health and contraception use. This inevitably leads to myths about contraception that deter women from accessing them. The following are a few such myths that need to be done away with for the sake of improved women’s healthcare across the globe.
Myth 1: You need to be sexually active to know about, use or own contraceptives.
Fact: Knowing about contraceptives well before you’re sexually active is important for your safety as well as that of your (current or future) partner. You should not feel ashamed to know how to use contraception. In fact, instead of going to half-baked sources of information about contraception, you should discuss it confidently with a gynaecologist, teacher, parent or person you trust.
Also, there’s a lot more to contraceptives than just avoiding pregnancies. Use of barrier contraceptives like condoms is also necessary to avoid sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and urinary tract infections (UTIs) - which women are more prone to. Oral contraceptive pills are also recommended to young as well as older women to treat health issues like polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), uterine fibroids and endometriosis.
Myth 2: Prolonged use of injectable or pill contraceptives can cause infertility.
Fact: A study in the journal International Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health in 2015 suggests that this myth might have its origins in the fact that women who use injectable contraception or oral contraceptive pills might experience some delays in the resumption of their ovulation and menstruation. But that’s about all the “infertility” these contraceptives cause, and things are back in working order soon.
Myth 3: Taking contraceptives leads to other health issues like weight gain, mood swings and pelvic inflammatory disease.
Fact: You might have heard this myth more often in the context of oral contraceptive pills, but it’s also associated with IUD implants. While many studies do suggest oral contraceptive use combined with smoking, hypertension or other risk factors may lead to cardiovascular issues, the same cannot be said about weight gain or mood swings. Women who are prescribed oral contraceptives for PCOS or other issues might experience weight gain and mood swings because of these underlying conditions rather than due to the contraceptives. You might experience mood swings and some weight gain when you start taking oral contraceptives, but as your body adjusts to its effects, such symptoms tend to completely subside. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says that while women with IUDs might experience occasional pain and spotting, the actual risk of PID is very rare.
Myth 4: Pulling out in time is a reliable method of contraception.
Fact: The Cleveland Clinic states that pulling out in time before a man ejaculates, having sex while standing up or with the woman on top, or having unprotected sex during the safe period of your menstrual cycle, are not reliable methods of contraception. There are many loopholes in all of these methods that not only make you susceptible to pregnancy, but also to injuries, STIs and sexual dissatisfaction or frustration.
Myth 5: Oral contraceptives are effective immediately after you start taking them.
Fact: Oral contraceptive pills usually have to be taken for a week, beginning within five days after your period starts, before they become effective in preventing pregnancies. This is because the hormones in the pill usually take around seven days to interact with a woman’s natural hormones to prevent ovulation. For further guidance, you should talk to your gynaecologist or read the instructions provided with the pills.
Myth 6: Contraceptives are 100% effective in preventing pregnancies.
Fact: No type of contraception is 100% effective. The UK's National Health Service says male condoms are 98% effective when used properly. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and every instruction pamphlet with oral contraceptive pills state that they are 99.7% effective with perfect use. The CDC also states that IUDs are more than 99% effective in preventing pregnancies.
Myth 7: Contraception is not needed when a woman is breastfeeding.
Fact: The Cleveland Clinic states that breastfeeding may be an effective method of contraception only, and only if, the woman is within six months of delivering her baby, her normal menstrual cycle hasn’t resumed yet, and the baby is exclusively breastfed. If any of these criteria are not met, there’s a chance that ovulation can occur and having unprotected sex can then lead to another pregnancy. In such cases, the breastfeeding mother is recommended to discuss a safe form of contraception with her gynaecologist.
For more information, read our article on Birth control methods.
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