26 September was World Contraception Day, which encourages awareness about contraception in a campaign for safe sex and planned parenting. The contraception campaign aims to help women and girls fight for their right to choose if and when they want to have children, helping them to achieve autonomy and well-being.
It also promotes safe sex for both men and women, and highlights the importance of global family planning programmes put into place to help those without access to contraception or family related healthcare for the millions of unintended pregnancies worldwide. It aims to support the health and development of communities, and hopefully break cycles of poverty so that families, communities, and countries can become more sustainable and prosperous.
To help unmask some of the social stumbling blocks of contraception being used around the world, Plan International UK have created a ‘contraception myths quiz’ that reveals some of the unknown myths preventing safe sex, especially in developing countries or in communities where contraception is taboo. Take the quiz to see how many of the myths you can debunk, and read below a little more information about the myths that exist and why they are dangerous.
Contraceptive Pill Myths
There is a lot of stigma around combined oral contraceptive (COCs) and the side effects they can have. Many believe that it will cause a range of problems including acne, weight gain, or depression. While these are possible side-effects, there are different types of COCs, which have different levels of hormones. So if you experience certain side-effects, you may be better suited to another pill type.
While it is often referred to as the ‘morning after pill’, this isn’t really accurate as emergency contraception usually still works longer than 24 hours after intercourse. But as emergency pills usually prevent or delay ovulation, the sooner it is taken, the more effective it will be. Effectiveness varies from pill to pill, but can drop from 95% to 85% after 24 hours, and then even further.
Contraception plays a hugely important role, not just in the prevention of pregnancy, but in empowering women to plan their own futures. Study after study has shown that unplanned pregnancies can have serious consequences for women and their families, including long-term health issues for women who do not have access to safe abortion procedures.
The Grapefruit Myth
There is a myth that grapefruit can reduce the effectiveness of the pill but this is not true! Research shows that there is a chemical in grapefruit interacts with the oestrogen hormone, ethinyl estradiol, possibly increasing oestrogen in the blood stream and potentially leading to side effects or health risks. Ethinyl estradiol can be found in some types of COCs, such as Yasmin or Levora – check with your GP if you’re worried about an interaction. However, it does not reduce effectiveness.
There are medications, such as some types of antibiotics and epilepsy treatments, that can impact the effectiveness of the combined pill and other hormonal contraception (implant for example). If your doctor prescribes this medication, they should let you know that it will interact with your contraceptive method.
Although myths like the grapefruit one are not usually that harmful, it does show how quickly such urban legends can spread and affect the adoption of contraception!
There are many myths around the world (particularly in Africa) relating to HIV and contraception, one of which includes a theory that some contraception is produced containing the HIV virus. However, the World Health Organisation has debunked this belief, confirming that the virus only survives a few minutes at room temperature.
This type of myth and a reluctance to embrace family planning have allowed HIV infections to spread and affect nearly 37 million people worldwide. Observational studies from the World Health Organisation (WHO) show regular condom use can reduce HIV incidence by up to 80%.
This is precisely why education about sexual health is such a powerful weapon in the fight against the spread of disease and poverty, especially in the developing world. Supplying contraceptives is only part of the battle – educating people about how to use them and why – is what makes the difference.
There are many theories outlining different ‘techniques’ or activities that can help prevent pregnancy. These are often myths and can be potentially harmful if people aren’t protecting themselves during sex. Things like standing up during sex or washing afterwards won’t prevent pregnancy. Techniques like the ‘withdrawal method’ and the ‘calendar method’ are highly ineffective at preventing pregnancy compared with other birth control methods.
Worldwide, North and South America have the highest proportion of contraception use amongst married women – both around 75%, with Europe at 69% and Africa last with 34%. Interestingly after decades of improvement in the quality of reproductive health, the United Kingdom is now second to China in terms of effective contraceptive use. Showing the importance of education to reproductive and sexual health.
Some people avoid contraception fearing that it will cause infertility or affect your ability to get pregnant easily after you stop using it. There is currently no scientific support that suggests birth control affects fertility negatively. In fact, the contraceptive pill has some protective benefits against pelvic inflammatory disease and endometriosis, which can actually help preserve fertility rather than prevent it.
In countries such as Ghana, fear of infertility is a major barrier to the adoption of the contraceptive pill, such is the heavy stigma that is attached to women who cannot become pregnant. Social isolation, marital strain and mental health issues are common problems for Ghanaian women and so it is easy to see why myths about contraception and infertility would be so worrying to the female population.