Birth control myths are unproven ideas you will encounter when you are trying to avoid an unplanned pregnancy. Many claims circulate about how to prevent pregnancy effectively, so in this post let's look at four common examples you might believe and consider how true they are.
What's On This Page
- Birth Control Myths - Why they exist
- 1. Period Sex as Birth Control - Does It Work?
- 2. Ampicillin as Birth Control??
- 3. You can Take the Morning After Pill 'Anytime' you like
- 4. Taking the Emergency Pill once protects from Multiple Sexual Encounters
Birth Control Myths - Why they exist
For as long as we can remember, men and women have sought methods to avoid an unplanned pregnancy.
This could be for several reasons, and sometimes the fear of carrying a pregnancy to term when you do not wish to can result in desperate measures.
It's certainly been the case for several years before modern birth control methods that women would try anything in the hope that it could work.
People would use herbs (mainly), some concoctions or even suggest sexual positions which they thought to prevent pregnancy.
The results vary: failure of method or even serious illness and death could result when things go wrong.
And these days, even with the available modern birth control methods, some women or couples still embark on seeking measures they hope will prevent unplanned pregnancy.
1. Period Sex as Birth Control - Does It Work?
First, let us consider using 'period sex' as birth control.
Are you a person who's thinking of period sex to avoid getting pregnant?
Well, you should know that period sex as a birth control method is unreliable and just because it worked for a friend or your boyfriend says so - DOES NOT MEAN it will work for you!
Period sex is what we call having sex during the days of your menstrual period or bleeding days in your cycle.
Many people believe that it is NOT possible to get pregnant at the same time as your periods.
This stems from the idea that you can't ovulate (produce an egg) at the same time you have a period.
So if you can't have an egg during your period, how can you get pregnant, right?
While this statement is essentially true, it can be affected by OTHER Factors like the length of your own cycle and sperm survival.
Let's look at the cycle, but before that what do we know about sperm survival in the woman?
Sperm Survival after Sex
After sexual intercourse, sperm in the woman's reproductive tract - vagina and in the womb can survive for a period of time.
We mostly think this ranges from 3-7 days, but on average, you can expect that if you have unprotected sexual intercourse, your partner's sperm remains alive (viable) inside your body for about 5 days.
How long sperm survives will therefore have an impact on your chance of pregnancy that depends on your egg production (which happens at the phase of your menstrual cycle known as ovulation).
What Happens During Your Menstrual Cycle?
We usually define the menstrual cycle as the time from one period or 'days of bleeding' to the next.
For women, the average length of a cycle ranges from 25 - 35 days; with most of us averaging at about 28 days cycle length.
Here is what happens during your cycle:
- First, you have the bleeding segment (days of bleeding or red days), when the womb sheds its lining and is what we call the 'period'.
- In some women, it can last from 3 -7 days or even more, but usually, we average 4-5 days blood loss during a 'normal' period.
- Commonly we refer to the first day of bleeding as Day 1 of your menstrual cycle.
- Next comes the Follicular phase, so called because the most significant activity at this time - just after bleeding is from your ovary's follicles.
- Essentially, the ovary's follicles prepare for the release of the egg, i.e. ovulation. And therefore, your follicular phase runs from the end of your bleeding days till ovulation.
- Ovulation, the release of an egg on average for most women with a 28-day cycle happens around Day 14 of the cycle.
- But here's one fact women must realise - we cannot yet pinpoint exactly when we ovulate. Yes, we have ovulation kits that measure hormone levels in urine. Or temperature monitoring that suggest when ovulation happens. But these only provide estimates.
- The fact is that ovulation - even if you have a regular 28-day cycle - is quite unpredictable. The time it happens can also change if your cycle length is shorter or longer.
- After ovulation, the egg remains alive (viable) for about 48 hours; after which we get the last phase of the cycle known as the Luteal phase. In this part of your cycle, your womb is trying to get ready for a possible pregnancy, given that a new egg has just been released.
- Your womb lining becomes a little thicker as more blood vessels and tissues grow to support a pregnancy. However, if fertilisation after sex does not happen, this lining is shed as your next menstrual period at the end of the luteal phase.
- This event usually occurs another 14 days or so from ovulation in the regular cycle (which is when you have another menstrual bleed or period). And a new cycle starts from that point on.
So that's the average timing and events' schedule for most women's menstrual cycles.
How Does Period Sex Result in Pregnancy?
But here's where it becomes complicated:
- Suppose you have a short cycle and a long bleeding period. This means ovulation could happen earlier than 14 days, say day 10, 11 or 12. This is in addition to a longer bleeding period that lasts 6 or 7 days (or more).
- Next, if you have sex on the 6th or 7th day of your period, it means you have sperm in your womb, and we know sperm remain viable or alive in the womb for up to 3- 7 days after sex...
- ....meaning that you could have living sperm up to day 11 or 12 of your cycle. This maybe the day you ovulate because of your shorter cycle.
- And that's how you fall pregnant with period sex!
Most of the time, if you have sex during your periods, pregnancy is unlikely, but it IS possible. This little chance is why the method is UNRELIABLE.
Check out this video here where I explain period sex and pregnancy.
So when someone tells you that you can avoid pregnancy by having sex during your period - before you go ahead, remember your cycle and how you cannot predict ovulation so, it's a big risk.
A reminder too, that period sex does not protect you from sexually transmitted infections, so please use a condom. Doing so not only reduces your risk of unplanned pregnancy but infections, too.
2. Ampicillin as Birth Control??
This is a popular birth control myth.
The way it goes is that taking some doses of the antibiotic, Ampicillin can prevent you from falling pregnant after unprotected sex.
While this sounds like an attractive solution, it is absolutely ineffective for that purpose.
Penicillin, discovered in 1928 is a well known antibiotic responsible for saving countless lives.
Ampicillin is an antibiotic that belongs to the same class as Penicillin and which we use for treating ear, throat or chest infections and more.
Simply put, it has no role in preventing an unwanted pregnancy after unprotected sexual intercourse.
3. You can Take the Morning After Pill 'Anytime' you like
Another birth control myth to unpack centres around the timing of your emergency contraceptive (or morning-after pill).
Of course the term 'morning after pill' is a misnomer; because you can certainly take the pill during the afternoon and at night. But the term became popular soon after the pill was developed.
It was marketed as the solution for activities during the night before the 'morning after' - following a night of unplanned or unexpected sexual intercourse - hence 'morning after.
But enough about the name! The job of this pill is to prevent pregnancy from happening after an episode of unprotected sexual intercourse.
This happens primarily by delaying ovulation. In addition, there is a window period to use the emergency pills when they are most effective.
This is usually 72 hours (3 days) for Levonorgestrel (LNG) containing pills.
Levonorgestrel is a synthetic progesterone, similar to the hormone produced in our bodies.
Examples are Postinor, Plan B, I-pill, Take Action, Postinir 2, Levonelle and so on.
For one of the other types of emergency contraceptive pill - Ulipristal Acetate - the window for taking it safely is 120 hours (5 days).
So, contrary to the belief that you can take the emergency pill anytime you like; the recommendation instead is:
- take the emergency pill as soon as possible after an episode of sexual intercourse
- it has a higher chance of working taken during the period before a woman's ovulation.
Reasons the Emergency Pill may not work
As we have expressed already - ovulation is rather unpredictable despite our best tools to detect it. What we can do at best is estimate when we ovulate.
Since this can be different from one month to another even in women with regular cycles, you should take the morning after pill as soon as possible following sex.
When you do take the pill, remember that one of the reasons it may not work is if you have already ovulated - a factor no one can time with 100% accuracy.
In addition, if you take it outside the window period (3 days for LNG; 5 days for Ulipristal), it's much less likely to work.
However, some of the Levonorgestrel pills may also work to a limited degree in other ways:
- Some studies suggest the synthetic progesterone can make the mucus in the cervix thicker and harder for sperm to move toward the egg and cause fertilisation.
- Another reason suggested is that the progesterone alters the lining of the womb making it difficult for a fertilised egg to implant within the womb.
Since these two minor methods do not rely on ovulation, some suggest this means you can use the pill after ovulation but please note these effects are less reliable.
4. Taking the Emergency Pill once protects from Multiple Sexual Encounters
The emergency birth control pill is not designed or recommended for regular use.
Even though the pill is not known to cause any significant degree of harm, it can make the menstrual cycle irregular after you use it too frequently.
Thus, if you are having frequent sexual intercourse, you should choose a regular contraceptive method.
Options include a daily pill, weekly patch or vaginal ring, depot injection, an implant placed under the skin or the coil device placed in the womb.
Some women use the morning after pill and think that this protects them from pregnancy if they have more unprotected sex in the days following. This is incorrect.
You will remember that after intercourse, sperm can live in the womb for 5 days. Having sex again the day after having the pill introduces more sperm with the ability to live another 5 days.
Thus the morning after pill has limits to which it can provide protection - this is usually for the sexual encounter you had before taking the pill, not for repeat episodes.
What do you think? Ever got caught out by any of these birth control myths? Let us know down below what other birth control myths you are aware of.
Stay well and see you again soon.
Editing by AskAwayHealth Team
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