There are a number of birth control methods that are highly effective in preventing pregnancy. There is also a lot of misinformation about how to use birth control, as well as some methods that simply do not work.

The following are some common myths regarding sex and contraception.

1. I’m breastfeeding so I can’t get pregnant.

Breastfeeding may help prevent pregnancy if a woman is within six months of delivery, has not had a menstrual cycle AND the baby is only feeding on breast milk (no formula or soft food supplementation). All three of these criteria must be met for breastfeeding to be an effective form of contraception. In all other situations, ovulation can occur even when a woman is breastfeeding. The nursing mother should use birth control if she wishes to avoid pregnancy.

2. 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 releases an egg each month as part of her regular menstrual cycle. This occurs whether or not the woman has sex or an orgasm.

3. I won’t get pregnant if I douche after sex.

Douching is not an effective method of contraception. After ejaculation, the sperm enter the cervix and are out of reach of any douching solution. Also, douching is not recommended as it can disrupt the delicate bacterial balance of the vagina, causing irritation or infection.

4. 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
  • Progesterone

A delicate balance of these hormones regulates the release of an egg (ovulation) and — if the egg is not fertilized — menstruation.

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 and medicines. 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.

5. I won’t get pregnant if we have sex standing up or if the woman is 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.

6. 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.

7. I won’t get pregnant if my partner pulls out before he ejaculates.

Pulling out before the man ejaculates, known as withdrawal, is not an effective method of contraception. Some ejaculate (fluid that contains sperm) might be released before the man actually begins to climax. In addition, some men might not have the willpower or be able to withdraw in time. If 100 women use the withdrawal method for pregnancy prevention each year, roughly 22 will have an unintended pregnancy.

8. I won’t get pregnant because this is my first time having sex.

A woman can get pregnant any time ovulation occurs, even if you’ve never had sex before.

9. 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 semen and sperm that have already entered the uterus through the cervix.

10. The pill is effective immediately after you begin taking it.

In most women, at least one week is needed for the hormones in the pill (oral contraceptive) to work with the woman’s natural hormones to prevent ovulation. To be effective, the pill must be taken as directed.

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