There are a number of birth control methods that are highly effective in preventing pregnancy. There also is a lot of misinformation about how to use contraception, as well as some methods that simply do not work.
Following are some common myths about birth control and contraception:
- I'm breastfeeding so I can't get pregnant.
While breastfeeding tends to postpone ovulation, this is not a guarantee. Ovulation can occur even when a woman is breastfeeding. The nursing mother should use birth control if she wishes to avoid getting pregnant.
- You can't get pregnant if the woman doesn't have an orgasm.
Pregnancy occurs when a sperm from the man fertilizes an egg from the woman. While the man must ejaculate to release sperm, it is not necessary for the woman to have an orgasm to get pregnant. A woman of childbearing age usually releases an egg each month as part of her regular menstrual cycle. This occurs whether or not the woman has sex or an orgasm.
- I won't get pregnant if I douche after sex.
- I don't need contraception because we only have sex during the "safe" time. You're only fertile one day a month.
Myths such as these most likely arise from a lack of understanding of the menstrual cycle. There are four major hormones (chemicals that stimulate or regulate the activity of cells or organs) involved in the menstrual cycle: follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), luteinizing hormone (LH), estrogen, and progesterone. A delicate balance of these hormones regulates the release of an egg (ovulation), and if the egg is not fertilized, menstruation occurs. While a woman's cycle is more or less regular at most times, this balance of hormones can be disrupted by various factors, including age, stress, medications, etc. Therefore, pinpointing the time of ovulation and predicting any "safe" days can be difficult. Couples who have success with the rhythm method of contraception must carefully monitor the women's menstrual cycles and evaluate symptoms of ovulation, as well as any external factors.
- I won't get pregnant if we have sex standing up or if I am on top.
Some people believe that having sex in certain positions, such as standing up, will force the sperm out of the woman's vagina. In truth, positions during sex have nothing to do with whether or not fertilization occurs. When a man ejaculates, the sperm are deposited well into the vagina. The sperm will, by nature, begin to move up through the cervical canal immediately after ejaculation.
- You can use plastic wrap or a balloon if you don't have a condom.
Plastic wrap and balloons are not good to use as condoms. They don't fit well and can easily be torn during sex. Condoms are specifically made to provide a good fit and good protection during sex, and they are thoroughly tested for maximum effectiveness.
- I won't get pregnant if my partner pulls out before he ejaculates.
Pulling out before the man ejaculates, known as the withdrawal method, is not a foolproof method for contraception. Some ejaculate (fluid that contains sperm) may be released before the man actually begins to climax. In addition, some men may not have the willpower or be able to withdraw in time.
- I won't get pregnant because this is my first time having sex.
A woman can get pregnant any time ovulation occurs, even if it is your first time having sex.
- I won't get pregnant if I take a shower or bath right after sex, or if I urinate right after sex.
Washing or urinating after sex will not stop the sperm that have already entered the uterus through the cervix.
- The pill is always effective immediately after you begin taking it.
In some women, one complete menstrual cycle is needed for the hormones in the pill (oral contraceptive) to work with the woman's natural hormones to prevent ovulation. Some doctors recommend using a back-up method of birth control the first month of taking the pill.
Reviewed by the doctors at The Cleveland Clinic Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology.
The National Women's Health Information Center.
Reviewed by Robert S. Phillips, MD on July 08, 2008
Portions of this page © Cleveland Clinic 2008