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Contraception myth-busting

reading time: 5 minutes reading time
contraception myth busting

Has anyone else noticed that everyone seems to have an opinion about hormonal contraception? Like, quite strong opinions? But these are often based on ideas that simply aren’t true. Time to bust some myths.

Just to be clear before we get started. The ‘hormonal’ in hormonal contraception means oestrogen and progesterone. These hormones occur naturally in your body and can be used to help avoid pregnancy.

A quick glance around the internet throws up some hilarious, and frankly worrying, ideas about contraception in general. No, it’s not ok to use a balloon instead of a condom. Yes, you can get pregnant if you have sex standing up. Wow. To set the record straight, let’s look into some common confusions around hormonal contraception.

Myth: Your body needs a break from hormonal contraception.
Fact: Nope. Taking breaks from contraception means you will need to stop and then restart taking it, which can actually cause more problems. Most of the possible side effects occur within the first few months, while your body is adjusting to the new hormonal balance. When you stop and start, these side effects may come back.1 That said, if you are interested in trying a different type of contraception, your doctor will be able to help you out.

Myth: It makes you gain weight.
Fact: Not exactly. It’s true that this can sometimes happen when you start using hormonal contraception as it can increase fluid retention, but like the other side effects, this usually goes away after two or three months.2 Several longer term studies have been done and found no evidence that birth control directly causes weight gain. One did find a slight increase in weight after the contraceptive injection, but it was not certain whether this was to blame.3

Myth: It’s unhealthy to skip periods.
Fact: This one’s pretty common. Hormonal contraception works by preventing the ovaries from releasing any eggs. No eggs means no babies. Science.4 When the contraceptive pill was first created back in the 1960s, it was actually designed to be taken continuously, with no placebo week and no bleeding.5 However, the scientists who discovered it decided that women would still want to have a period once a month (really?), because that’s what society was used to. So, the pill-free week was added.1,5 There are still people who say that women need to have monthly periods, but this is not actually based on any biological evidence at all.5,6 In reality, hormonal contraception options that allow you to have fewer periods have been extensively tested and deemed a suitable way to avoid pregnancy.

Myth: Taking hormonal contraception will delay the menopause.
Fact: So if it means that you don’t release any eggs, doesn’t this mean they will be saved up for later in life and delay the menopause? This is a fair question, but it’s not the case. When you were born, you had about one to two million eggs in your ovaries. That’s a lot of potential kids. Over the next 40 years, this number naturally drops to about 1,000 by the time you start the menopause.7 Simple maths will tell you that you haven’t had one to two million periods in your life! And most eggs just get lost along the way and are reabsorbed by the body. The menopause happens at a particular time of life when the ovaries produce less oestrogen, not because you have run out of eggs.7,8 So no, taking hormonal contraception won’t delay the menopause.

Myth: It can make you infertile.
Fact: Not at all. The effects of hormonal contraception are temporary and they do not have any impact on your long-term fertility.1,3 Many women can become pregnant almost immediately after coming off hormonal contraception, but for others it can take a few months for the body to readjust.9

So the next time you hear opinions about contraception flying around, you can make sure they are informed by the facts. Time to drop some knowledge and set the record straight. If you have any more questions about hormonal contraception, just ask your doctor, or click here to find out more.

 

References

  1. http://womhealth.org.au/conditions-and-treatments/the-pill-myths-and-misconceptions
  2. http://www.webmd.boots.com/contraception/oral-contraception-weight
  3. http://www.refinery29.com/birth-control-myths
  4. http://www.webmd.com/sex/birth-control/hormonal-methods-of-birth-control
  5. http://www.womenshealthmag.com/health/birth-control-placebo-pills
  6. http://www.webmd.com/sex/birth-control/features/no-period-pills#1
  7. http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/health-az/contraceptives-does-the-pill-store-up-my-eggs-762686.html
  8. http://www.webmd.com/menopause/guide/menopause-basics#1
  9. http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/contraception-guide/Pages/when-periods-after-stopping-pill.aspx