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Contraception Misconceptions

Not Knowing All the Facts About Contraception

By

Updated June 28, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Unfortunately, there seem to be so many misconceptions about contraception. I have found that the best way to overcome this obstacle is by churning out the facts about contraception. This page is part of my interactive FAQ section of this site. I have put together a collection of many of your questions reflecting the misconceptions that people seem to have about birth control. If you have a question about contraception or are wondering about misconceptions that you may be holding on to, please email me, so I can get you the accurate answer that you deserve. This page is a “living document,” so please make sure to check back as I will be continually adding the questions that I receive surrounding birth control myths and misconceptions.

Some Addition Resources About Contraception Misconceptions:

Here Are Answers to Some of Your Questions:

1. Is It True that a Vasectomy Will Lower My Libido?

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Many men (and women) have the fear that undergoing a vasectomy will actually ruin their sex lives. Luckily though, this is just a common misconception, and there is no truth behind it.

A vasectomy is actually a very safe (and quick) permanent birth control procedure. Research shows that having a vasectomy does not lower your sex drive or affect erections or orgasms. Many couples even report greater sexual satisfaction after a vasectomy because there is no longer any threat of an unplanned pregnancy.

2. Condom Sizes - Are They For Real?

Photo © 2011 Dawn Stacey

I have gotten this question about birth control (condoms) a lot over the years, so I thought this would be the perfect place to address the myth that condom sizes don't matter.

Guess what, they do! The wrong-size condom can lead to birth control failure if it is too big or too small. Also, in order to really enjoy having sex while using a condom, finding the perfect fit makes a big difference (for you and your partner). You guys are not all built the same, and neither are condoms. With some trial and error, you will find your perfect match!

3. What is the Abortion Pill? Does It Matter When I Take It?

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This is a great question because many people get confused about this. Let me begin by saying that the abortion pill (also known as RU486) is not the same thing as the morning-after pill. An abortion pill can help terminate an existing pregnancy, whereas the morning-after pill helps prevent a pregnancy from occurring. If you are already pregnant and take the morning-after pill, nothing will happen to the fetus.

That being said, an abortion pill is one of three options that fall under "medical abortions" or "early abortions." You can undergo these procedures as soon as your pregnancy is confirmed. They are also FDA-approved to be used for up to 49 days after the first day of your last menstrual period (this means that you would be seven weeks pregnant or five weeks since conception). If you are further along in your pregnancy, a medical abortion may not be the safest procedure for you.

Early Abortion Options:

4. Seriously, Can I Safely Use the Pill to Skip My Period?

Photo © 2008 Dawn Stacey

Let's face it, at some time or another, most women find their period comes at the absolute worst possible time. I often receive many inquiries from women wanting to know how they can use the pill to skip a period. Their reasons range from being on vacation that week to getting married or some other important event where having a period would be less than optimal. Some women may also just want some relief one month and choose to skip a period to avoid period-related pain and symptoms.

Whatever your reason, the pill gives you control over when to expect your periods as well as the power to skip one altogether. And the good news? It is completely safe!

As long as you are using the pill, there is no medical reason to have a period. You don't even have a "real" period while using hormonal contraception. What you actually experience each month is something called withdrawal bleeding.

There are even birth control pills called extended cycle pills, which are FDA-approved to allow women to reduce the number of periods they have each year:

5. Doesn’t Having Your Tubes Tied Require Surgery?

Photo © 2011 Dawn Stacey

The answer to this question is yes and no. Technically, having your tubes tied requires the closing off of your fallopian tubes. How you accomplish this, however, may not require the need for incisions. Traditional tubal ligation procedures do require surgery, where your tubes are clipped, cut and/or cauterized (sealed shut). These procedures typically take place in a hospital or outpatient clinic.

 

Now, you also have the option of a hysteroscopic sterilization. These are non-surgical procedures that “plug up” the fallopian tubes rather than clipping or sealing them. The Essure Procedure was FDA-approved in 2002 and consists of the insertion of two small metal springs into the fallopian tubes. Adiana, FDA-approved in 2009, works in a similar way -- soft, rice-sized inserts are placed in the fallopian tubes after a low level of radiofrequency energy is applied. In both of these options, scar tissue begins to grow around the springs/inserts, thus closing off the fallopian tube. Many women appreciate this less intrusive approach to permanent sterilization.

 

6. Can Condoms Really Affect My Health?

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Generally speaking, condoms will not harm you. With that being said, some people may experience health concerns related to condom use. The most common would be an allergic reaction to latex. This can be easily avoided if you use a different type of condom (such as a polyurethane condom or a polyisoprene one). Another thing to pay attention to is the lubricant that your condom may come in. Some lubricants can contain spermicide, glycerin or parabens... these ingredients have been linked to certain health problems. Unfortunately, condom companies make it extremely difficult to determine exactly which chemicals are used in the manufacturing process, so you may have to do some of your own investigating.

 

7. Does the Birth Control Pill Cause Abortions?

Photo © 2012 Dawn Stacey

This question is a little bit tricky depending on who you ask, but the medical answer is no. Hormonal birth control (like the pill) typically work in three ways (this changes a little if the contraceptive is a progestion-only method).

One way that the pill can prevent pregnancy is that it may prevent the growth of uterine tissue (causing the uterine lining to become thinner). These uterine changes may lower the chances for implantation. This is where some misconceptions occur... some would argue that the pill is an abortifacient because it may prevent a fertilized egg from implanting, thus causing a pregnancy to terminate. The flaw in this argument has to do with the definition of pregnancy. Under this argument, pregnancy is defined at the point of conception.

Yet, according to established medical authorities and experts (like the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the FDA, and The National Institutes of Health), conception does NOT equal being pregnant. Under medical standards, the formation of a pregnancy takes several days, and you are not considered to be pregnant until a fertilized egg has implanted into the lining of the uterus. SO -- A pregnancy is considered to be established only once implantation has occurred.

Members of the medical community and advocates of hormonal contraception remain firm about informing people that the pill is not an agent of abortion. Medical authorities define an abortion as the disruption of an implanted fertilized egg. So, if the medical definition of pregnancy is an implanted egg, a woman is not considered to be pregnant if she has a fertilized egg that has not yet implanted. This means that it is impossible for hormonal contraceptives (like the pill or the morning-after pill) to terminate a pregnancy since, medically, the pregnancy doesn’t exist.

Federal policy, as well, is both consistent and in accord with the medical community, defining drugs and devices that act before implantation as preventions to pregnancy rather than agents that terminate pregnancy.

Also, just for the record, the morning-after pill will not terminate a pregnancy if the egg has already implanted into the uterus. Likewise, if you are using the pill and find out that you are pregnant, there is no conclusive evidence indicating that the pill will harm your baby.

8. Home Pregnancy Tests Aren’t As Accurate as a Doctor’s Test – Right?

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Actually, when used correctly, home pregnancy tests are just as reliable as the urine pregnancy tests offered at your doctor’s office. When you are pregnant, your body produces the hCG hormone. These pregnancy tests (either bought over-the-counter or administered at a doctor’s office) use urine to detect whether or not this hormone is present. The key to obtaining the most accurate result is following the directions on your home pregnancy test. If you test too soon, you may actually be pregnant but there may not be enough hCG hormone to trigger a positive test result. If you are testing yourself at the right time frame (most pregnancy tests, both at home and at your doctor's, can reliably detect the hCG hormone about one week after a missed period, or approximately 21 days since ovulation), and you follow the testing directions, your home pregnancy test result should be as accurate as what you would receive from your doctor.

That being said, your doctor also has the option to provide you with two types of blood pregnancy tests. These tests are also used to detect the hCG hormone, but can identify a pregnancy much earlier than urine tests can. Blood tests can usually confirm a pregnancy about 8 to 10 days after ovulation. Blood pregnancy tests also only need about 5 mIU (milli-International Units per milliliter) of hCG in the blood to detect a positive result whereas the most sensitive home pregnancy tests currently need about 15 to 25 mIU of hCG (to detect pregnancy within about a day of a missed period for 90% of women).

A qualitative hCG blood test can only confirm whether or not the hcG hormone is there (so it provides either a positive or negative result). This blood test is basically as accurate as a home urine test. A quantitative blood test can actually determine exactly how much hCG is in the blood. Knowing your hCG levels can allow you to figure out approximately how many weeks you are in the pregnancy or if there is the possibility that you may be miscarrying (due to hCG levels decreasing instead of rising). It also takes longer to receive results from a blood test whereas your results from a home urine test are instant.

9. I'm in a Serious Relationship, I'm Not at Risk for STDs

Though you would hope that your "serious" partner is being faithful to you, as long as you are engaging in risky behaviors with a potentially infected individual, you could be at risk for contracting a sexually transmitted infection. Unfortunately, even if you (or your partner) have the most honest intentions, many people (especially women) may not even know that they have caught a STD. So, your partner (or you) can be infecting others without even knowing it. STDs ca be transmitted many ways, whether or not you are in an opposite or same sex relationship. Make sure you understand the risks, so you can keep yourself and your future partners STD-free

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