Common Birth Control Myths and Sex Myths

Facts and Fiction About Birth Control

What are the most common myths about sex and birth control?

Studies in the The Journal of Sex Research have shown that out of a list of eight reasons for having sex, having a baby is the least frequent motivator for most people.

All throughout history, people have wanted to be able to decide when and whether to have a child. Given this, different types of birth control methods have been used in one form or another for thousands of years. As contraceptives evolved, so too have the myths surrounding their use.

How much do you know about the myths surrounding birth control and sex? Can you identify the myths from the facts?

1
Myth: You Can't Get Pregnant the First Time

Sex Myths
What are the most common sex and birth control myths?. Sarah Gabriela Riedl/Getty Images

Your chances of becoming pregnant are always the same, about 1 out of 20—even if it's your first time. You can become pregnant any time after you begin to ovulate and until you reach menopause.

This may mean that you can become pregnant before you even have your very first period (since you ovulate approximately 14 days before your period begins). Do not be pressured by comments like, "don't worry, it's your first time," and don't assume that a person may be too young (or too old) to get pregnant.

If this sounds confusing, take a moment to learn more about ovulation, conception, and everything you need to know to get, or avoid getting, pregnant.

2
Myth: Douching, Showering, or Bathing Can Prevent Pregnancy

Showering Doesn't Prevent Pregnancy
Douching, showering, or urinating after sex do not prevent pregnancy. Photo Kraig Scarbinsky/Getty Images

Douching is not an effective method of birth control as it isn't possible to douche fast enough to keep sperm away from an egg. This is true even if you douche immediately after sexual intercourse.

Urinating or taking a bath or shower will also not wash sperm out. There is a theory that douching with Coca-Cola is supposed to kill sperm. Although this may sometimes be true, it is not recommended as it can cause harm to the reproductive tract. As a side note, deodorant vaginal suppositories or sprays do not work either and can be equally as harmful.

Another thing to keep in mind is that you can also get pregnant having sex in the water. Some people think that the hotter temperatures in hot tubs may kill sperm, but this is also not the case. Plus, having sex in the water may lead to other problems, like getting arrested if you are in a public place or getting an infection from chemicals or bacteria.

3
Myth: A Female Can't Get Pregnant If the Male "Pulls Out" Before He Ejaculates

Pulls out
There are several problems with the withdrawal method of birth control. Photo Commercial Eye/Getty Images

It is a huge myth that women can't get pregnant if a man "pulls out" before ejaculation! Withdrawal is not always a reliable method, and there are several reasons for this.

Once a male becomes aroused, he ejects pre-ejaculate fluid—this fluid can contain at least 300,000 sperm (and it only takes one to join an egg!)

There is also the risk that he won't pull out in time as, in the heat of the moment, it can be hard to keep control.

Even if he ejaculates outside of the vagina, sperm can swim, so semen anywhere near the vagina can still lead to pregnancy (this means that pregnancy can occur even without penile penetration if a male ejaculates on or near the vagina). Withdrawal can be an effective method, but only if it is done perfectly (which is extremely hard to do). Learn more about the advantages and disadvantages of the withdrawal method.

4
Myth: A Female Can't Get Pregnant If She Has Sex During Her Period

Sex During Period
It is a myth that women can't get pregnant while they have their period, though it's often less likely. Photo Nancy R. Cohen/Getty Images

Many women (and men) believe the myth that a woman can't get pregnant during her period. It is possible for a female to get pregnant at any time during her menstrual cycle.

Generally, when you are having your period, it means that you are not ovulating. If this is the case, then you will not get pregnant. However, females with irregular or shorter cycles can actually ovulate during their period. It is not guaranteed that you will ovulate mid-cycle.

Sperm can live inside a woman's body for up to 5 days, so if you ovulate anytime within 7 days of having unprotected sex, you could become pregnant.

You can figure out your most fertile days based on what is average. But what woman is average?

5
Myth/Fact: Birth Control Pills Cause Cancer

Birth Control Pill Causes Cancer
Birth control pills may increase the risk of some cancers and lower the risk of others but overall cancer risk is not affected. Photo © 2014 Dawn Stacey

The myth that birth control pills cause cancer isn't entirely fiction. There are some small risks, but it's important to look at the big picture. The birth control pill may increase the risk of some cancers while decreasing the risk of others.

It doesn't appear that the pill increases your overall risk of cancer.

First the bad news. Studies have shown that using the birth control pill may be associated with an increased risk of cervical cancer. The risk is roughly three times higher with five to nine years of use, and four times higher with 10 years or more of use. That said, as long as a woman is having regular Pap smears and gynecology appointments, the risk of cervical cancer is rare; treatments are done before precancerous changes would progress that far. There is also the option of getting the HPV vaccine which can substantially reduce your risk.

The pill has also been linked with an increased risk of breast cancer, though the risk is relatively small. A few large studies have found an increased risk of breast cancer in pill users, which returns to normal around 10 years after discontinuing the pill. Women who have risk factors for breast cancer such as a family history of the disease should talk to their doctor about this risk when choosing a form of contraception.

On the other side of the equation, the pill appears to actually help prevent some cancers and is one of the non-contraceptive benefits of using the pill.

The pill is associated with a lower risk of ovarian cancer, and this reduction may be as high as 50 percent after 5 years of use. Oral contraceptive use is also associated with a lower risk of endometrial (uterine) cancer.

6
Myth: Use Saran Wrap (or a Balloon) If You Can't Find a Condom

How to Use Condom
Saran wrap isn't a substitute for condoms with regard to either pregnancy or STDs. Photo Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Yes, there is a myth floating around out there that you can use Saran Wrap (or even a balloon) if you don't have a condom! Saran wrap is no substitute for a condom.

If you do not have a reliable over-the-counter birth control method handy, do not use plastic sandwich wrap around a penis as a way to prevent pregnancy; It does not work. (Neither does using a balloon, so don't try that either.)

On a somewhat related note, never use toothpaste in place of a spermicide (it does not kill sperm—as many people have heard.)

7
Myth: Pregnancy Is Prevented by Jumping or Vaginal Seeds

Does Jumping Prevent Pregnancy
Jumping up and down doesn't make the sperm come down. Photo Tim Hale/Getty Images

There are many believers out there that sneezing, coughing, and jumping up and down after sex will dislodge sperm. This is all untrue; sperm are too quick and too tiny for any of these methods to work.

Plus, placing objects (such as seeds or plants) into the vagina before, during, or after sex will have no effect on preventing conception. This behavior can be dangerous as it can be harmful to the female's body.

8
Myth: Having Sex Standing Up Works as Birth Control

Sex Standing Up
Standing up sex can lead to pregnancy just as lying down sex. Photo B2M Productions/Getty Images

Myths surrounding the way you have sex are very common. One of the more frequent is that you can't get pregnant if you are standing up while having sex.

On a similar note, there are stories that you are less likely to get pregnant the fewer times that you have had sex.

A note to the wise: Any "advice" you stumble across that depends on how many times you have had sex or the position you are in while engaging in sex is not a birth control method and will most likely result in failure.

9
Myth: Not Having an Orgasm Can Be a Great Method of Birth Control

Birth Control for Women
Failing to have an organsim doesn't lower the chance you could become pregnant. Photo © 2014 Dawn Stacey

A lot of women believe that if they don't allow themselves to climax during sex, they will not get pregnant. Pleasure has nothing to do with birth control. Whether you enjoy sex or not, and with or without an orgasm, you can still get pregnant.

There is, however, still debate over whether female orgasm boosts fertility in those who are trying to get pregnant.

10
Myth: A Woman is More Protected, the Tighter a Condom Fits Her Partner

Tight Condoms
A tight condom isn't a better condom. Photo John Slater Collection/Getty Images

The misconception that a tighter a condom offers more protection against pregnancy is based on the belief that the tighter the condom, the less likely sperm will seep out or that the condom will slip off during sex.

However, a condom that is too tight is more likely to break during sex. When ​using a condom, it is also important to leave some space near the tip to safely catch the ejaculate (sperm); this prevents the condom from being over-stretched once the man ejaculates.

There is also a myth that two condoms are better than one. This is not true, and for more than one reason using two condoms may be less effective than using one.

Condom size does matter, and taking a look at our condom size chart can help you choose the size that is right.

Bottom Line on Sex and Birth Control Myths

You've probably noted the large number of myths surrounding sex and birth control in just this discussion alone, and there are many more. If your goal is to prevent pregnancy, it's important to have a careful discussion with your doctor about the available methods, as well as the proper use of those methods. Unfortunately, there is a lot of false information out there, and it's important to be skeptical when you read things online. The internet is an amazing source of good information but holds a vast amount of misinformation as well.

Now that you can discriminate fact from fiction with these birth control myths, what other some other common misconceptions about birth control?

Sources:

Cunningham, F. Gary., and John Whitridge Williams. Williams Obstetrics. New York: McGraw-Hill Education Medical, 2014. Print.

Lundsberg, L., Pal, L., Gariepy, A. et al. Knowledge, Attitudes, and Practices Regarding Conception and Fertility: A Population-Based Survey Among Reproductive-Age United States Women. Fertility and Sterility. 2014. 101(3):767-74.

National Cancer Institute. Oral Contraceptives and Cancer Risk. Updated 03/21/12. https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/hormones/oral-contraceptives-fact-sheet

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