Medical forms of birth control or contraceptives have stirred controversies since the invention of the pill in the 1950s. While a Supreme Court case paved the way for the availability of birth control, some debates still exist. Some question the inclusion of contraceptives in employer-sponsored insurance plans and which birth control methods are best for individual circumstances.
Many of the disagreements about contraceptives originate from sociocultural forces, including religious beliefs. However, misconceptions or false “truths” about birth control continue to permeate society. These false “truths” range from how you can use contraceptives to the efficacy of various methods. This article will examine four common misconceptions you might hear about birth control.
1. You Have to Visit a Doctor’s Office
In the past, an in-person office visit was necessary to get a prescription for contraceptives. Meeting with a doctor or nurse is part of the process of obtaining a prescription for just about any medicine. A medical practitioner evaluates your medical history and makes recommendations for different types of birth control.
Today, those consultations don’t always have to happen within a health clinic or medical office. You can get birth control online and have your prescription mailed to your address. When patients request a prescription online, they still fill out basic information forms and go through medical consultations.
Part of the consultation process involves discussing the benefits and risks associated with types of contraceptives. Some people, for instance, prefer a birth control method they don’t have to take every day. Others want a form with the highest levels of effectiveness or one they perceive as safe. Online prescriptions meet the specific needs of the patient. Plus, under the Affordable Care Act, many insurance plans cover a significant portion of the costs.
2. Birth Control Can Cause Cancer
There is a common misconception that taking hormonal forms of birth control can cause cancer. While hormonal contraceptives can increase the risk for some forms of cancer, they don’t cause them. The chances of someone developing cancer depends on a myriad of factors.
First, using contraceptives can increase a woman’s risk of breast and cervical cancer. However, this increased risk is only slight in the majority of women. Elevated risks can also come from certain types of birth control pills that contain multiple forms of hormones. The same risk levels don’t necessarily apply to all forms of the pill and other contraceptives.
If you have a strong family history of breast or cervical cancer, your doctor may recommend lower-risk options. Some specialists may advise that you stick to low-dose or low-hormonal forms of contraceptives. These pills typically provide lower amounts of estrogen which, at elevated levels, may be associated with breast cancer risk.
At the same time, the risk for certain types of cancer can decrease with birth control. Endometrial, ovarian, and colorectal cancer risk can go down with contraceptive use. Yet, certain genes are thought to increase the risk for both breast and ovarian cancer. Taking birth control can be a balancing act for some patients who have inherited BRCA gene mutations. Other factors, including one’s lifestyle, can either mitigate or exacerbate the effects of hormones and DNA. All that said, birth control itself does not cause cancer.
3. Taking Birth Control Can Cause Blood Clots and Stroke
A person’s chances of developing blood clots or having a stroke are not solely influenced by contraceptives. Taking birth control alone will not cause blood clots or a stroke. The increased risks for these conditions will depend on other factors, including age and weight.
In general, women under 35 will not elevate their risks by taking hormonal contraceptives. Individuals over the age of 35 may have a slightly increased risk for a blood clot or a stroke. But, this is mostly because cases of blood clots and stroke are correlated with advancing age. Yet, other factors like smoking and a history of heart disease may have more significance.
A personal history of hypertension is more likely to be an underlying cause of blood clots and stroke. Hormonal birth control may heighten the effects of hypertension but not necessarily be the root cause. Likewise, individuals who are overweight or obese may have elevated risks due to the health effects of excess weight. Some of these effects can include pre-hypertension and high blood pressure.
This doesn’t mean that these patients should avoid birth control altogether. Besides low-dose contraceptives, there are forms without estrogen. There are also non-hormonal options that can remove any chances of increased risks associated with underlying factors. The best course of action will depend on a person’s medical history, concerns, and lifestyle.
4. Every Method of Birth Control is 100% Effective
The truth is that some forms of birth control don’t always start working right away. Efficacy rates for preventing pregnancy among various contraceptives can also vary. For instance, it can take seven days for the pill to start working. The stage of a woman’s ovulation cycle when she starts taking the pill will be a determining factor.
If someone starts taking contraceptives within a few days of her last period, the pill may start working right away. If it’s been longer since your last period ended, you’ll need to use other birth control methods to prevent pregnancy. However, some types of contraceptives don’t always coincide with your cycle. Progestin-only pills, for example, can start working within 48 hours. Your doctor may still recommend other methods of birth control, depending on your situation.
Efficacy rates among birth control methods are high, according to research from the Urban Institute. Pills, patches, and rings are 91% effective, and the shot has a 94% efficacy rate. Methods like IUDs and other hormonal implants have a 99% efficacy rate. However, even sterilization is not considered 100% effective. Its efficacy rate is the same as IUDs. The only thing that is 100% effective is abstinence, a lifestyle that many find impractical.
Birth control can be an effective way to prevent unwanted pregnancies. Various methods can help you and your partner plan for a child or family when the time is right. However, common misconceptions can lead to improper use or avoidance. You don’t always have to visit a doctor’s office to get a prescription. Managing individual health risks and evaluating average efficacy rates are also possible with the help of a medical professional. Knowing these truths can change the way you make decisions about your reproductive choices.