An Expert Debunks Birth Control Myths Once And For All

Birth control and a fulfilling sex life go hand in hand. If you want to make love without the added pressure of making a baby during the process, birth control, when used correctly, is your best bet at prevention. Not only is birth control highly effective, affordable, and convenient, but it also has added benefits, such as lightening your period and relieving menstrual cramps, per Planned Parenthood

But although birth control is barely a taboo subject anymore and contraceptive education is made possible for women in many parts of the world, the biological science behind our reproductive organs is still a big unknown to many of us. And that's why the perpetuation of falsehoods regarding birth control is still prevalent and is preventing those with limited scientific knowledge from seeing the real benefits of contraceptives and tapping into them.

To help clear up the confusion surrounding birth control, we've done a deep dive with Sophia Yen, M.D., M.P.H., co-founder and CEO of Pandia Health, and busted the top five misconceptions that stand in the way of a healthy love life.

Myth: Birth control makes you sterile

The first myth that we'd like to address is that birth control might interfere with a woman's ability to conceive following cessation of use. According to Dr. Yen, birth control — no matter which method you use — can only make you sterile as long as you're still using it. The moment you stop using hormonal birth control methods such as pills, the patch, the ring, an implant, or an IUD, you are back in the running for pregnancy. That's why women experience withdrawal bleeding within two to four weeks after stopping hormonal birth control and start menstruating naturally again the following month.

According to a study published in the journal "Contraception and Reproductive Medicine" that examined 14,884 women who discontinued contraception, 74.7% to 90% of ex-implant users, 84.75% of former IUD users, and 95% of those who used oral contraceptive methods got pregnant within 12 months following the discontinuation of birth control.

Myth: You need to menstruate every month

According to Dr. Yen, menstruating like clockwork is expected when you are not on any type of hormonal birth control, but if you are, bleeding every month is not a given. "We now have the technology [and] science to make #PeriodsOptional," she said. 

Hormonal birth control contains estrogen and progestin, which can interfere with your regular menstrual cycle, per MedlinePlus. The side effects vary from person to person, with some women experiencing lighter periods or only spotting, some experiencing heavier bleeding, and some going months without menstruating at all. It's also normal for those who use an IUD, the NuvaRing, or who receive shots, to skip their scheduled periods.

The only confusion that can come from menstruation lapses is that it can be hard to tell if you're pregnant or if your lack of a period is just the effect of the birth control you are on. While rare, it's not impossible for sexually active people to get pregnant while on birth control. If you suspect you are pregnant and can't count on a missed period to be sure, look for other telltale signs, such as nausea, increased urination, or fatigue. The surest way to tell though is to take a home pregnancy test or pay a visit to your doctor for a blood test.

Myth: Birth control pills are all the same

Not all birth control pills are created equal. "Know that there are eight different progesterones and at least 40 different pills," Dr. Yen said. "If one pill didn't work for you, try the other 39 or at least try one of the other seven progesterones."

Generally speaking, there are two main types of birth control pills, including combination pills which contain estrogen and progestin, and the progestin-only minipill. Combination birth control pills are available in different dosages of active and inactive pills. Most combination birth control pill packets contain 10 to 35 micrograms of ethinyl estradiol, a form of estrogen, according to Mayo Clinic. The minipill, on the other hand, does not contain any estrogen. It is often prescribed for women who are breastfeeding, as it does not interfere with milk production, and for women who have certain health problems, such as high blood pressure or heart disease.

Genetics and lifestyle factors can affect birth control's effectiveness, which is why you need a prescription for it. Before writing one, your doctor will look at your medical history and the medications that you're currently on, and advise you on which option may work well for you.

Myth: Birth control and side effects go hand in hand

Like all medications, ranging from over-the-counter to prescription, using birth control can come with possible side effects. These vary from person to person, and different birth control methods can make you experience different side effects at varying degrees. But that doesn't mean you should just suck it up and deal with them. Talk to your doctor about any side effects you are experiencing from your birth control.

"Doctors are trained to give you birth control with the least likelihood of any side effects," Dr. Yen tells Glam. "I've taken the 40+ birth control pills and ranked them from most likely to give you munchies to least likely to give you munchies, same for breakthrough bleeding, decreased libido, and zits."

The most common side effects of hormonal birth control methods include spotting, nausea, and breast tenderness. If you use non-hormonal birth control — such as spermicides, female condoms, or a diaphragm — you might experience allergic reactions, urinary tract infections, and yeast infections. According to Planned Parenthood, any side effects you may experience usually go away after two or three months as your system has had time to fully adjust to the birth control you're using.

Myth: It's better to choose a method with the least amount of hormones

Birth control pills introduce artificial hormones into the body, which inhibits the production of our natural estrogen and progesterone and prevents ovulation as a result. So, is it detrimental to have these extra hormones coursing through your body? Not necessarily, according to Dr. Yen. 

"If you are under 30 years old, you do not want the least amount of hormones," she said. "You want at least 30 micrograms of estrogen in the birth control pill, patch, or ring." Without this level of estrogen, you can experience low bone density, which increases your risk of fractures later in life.

Oral contraceptives have also been linked to the reduced risk of osteoporosis, a health condition that weakens the bones and makes them more vulnerable to breakage, according to a study published in "The Journal of Reproductive Medicine." So while it's true that you might experience some effects of hormonal fluctuations at first (mitigate these by taking your pill at the same time each day), the hormones in birth control are not likely to cause any long-term issues, and they may even prevent certain health problems in the future. And once you're off hormonal birth control, your hormone levels will return to normal.