The truth is most women receive their sexual education from their age mates, peer groups and television around the time they start being interested in sex, which for a large percentage is in their teen years. Most will later on get more factual information on the subject but unfortunately some things that aren’t factual remain ingrained and perpetuated as real. So let’s debunk some of those myths for the younger women who are just getting into the conversation, and the older women who haven’t yet dismissed these “fake facts”.

Oral contraceptives (the pill) are hormonally active pills which are usually taken by women on a daily basis. They contain either two hormones combined (progestogen and estrogen) or a single hormone (progestogen).

Combined oral contraceptives suppress ovulation. Progestogen-only contraceptives also suppress ovulation in about half of women (they are slightly less effective). Both types cause a thickening of the cervical mucus, blocking sperm penetration.

Oral contraceptives are 92 – 99 percent effective. A woman can decide to start taking the pill if she is sexually active or planning to become sexually active. The pill offers continuous protection against pregnancy, it produces regular and shorter periods (and frequently a decrease in menstrual cramps), and it protects against ovarian and endometrial cancer, ectopic pregnancies and infections of the fallopian tubes

With that in mind here are some common misconceptions about the pill:

Myth #1: The pill is always effective immediately after you begin taking it

In some women, one complete menstrual cycle is needed for the hormones in the pill (oral contraceptive) to work with the woman’s natural hormones to prevent ovulation. Some doctors recommend using a back-up method of birth control the first month of taking the pill.

Myth #2: Infertility/return to fertility

Women who seek family planning may incorrectly believe that using oral contraceptives will cause a long delay in conceiving or prevent them from being able to have children in the future.

Fact:

The pill does not cause infertility. This is true regardless of how long a woman has taken it, the number of children the woman has had, or the age of the woman. In fact, some of the non-contraceptive benefits of the pill include preserving fertility by offering protection against pelvic inflammatory disease, endometriosis, and ectopic pregnancy.

There is no evidence that the pill delays a woman’s return to fertility after she stops taking them. Women who stop using it can become pregnant as quickly as women who stop using non-hormonal methods.

Read: Male birth control: can it work in Africa?

Myth #3: Pill absorption

Many women believe that oral contraceptives accumulate in the body and cause diseases and tumors, or get stored in the stomach, ovaries, or uterus and form stones.

Fact: After the pills are swallowed, they dissolve in the digestive system, and the hormones they contain are absorbed into the bloodstream. After they produce their contraceptive effect, the hormones are metabolised in the liver and gut and are then eliminated from the body. They do not accumulate in the body anywhere.

A combined oral contraceptive pill that includes a combination of Gestodene (79%) and Ethynylestradiol (21%). Photo: Wiki commons

Myth #4: Sexual desire and sexual pleasure

Some women may believe that oral contraceptives reduce sexual pleasure or interest in sex (loss of libido) or cause frigidity in women.

Fact: There is no evidence that it affects a woman’s sex drive. Although some women using the pill have reported either an increase or decrease in sexual interest and performance, it is difficult to say whether such changes are a result of the pill or other life events.

Myth #5: Weight changes

Many studies have proven that women who are on the pill do not gain more weight than women not on the pill.  While some pills may cause water retention, this only accounts for approx. 1 kg of weight gain.

Myth #6: General health problems

A woman may experience short term side effects associated with use of the pill, including changes in bleeding patterns, headaches, and nausea. However such side effects are not a sign of illness, and usually stop within the first few months. For a woman whose side effects persist, she should seek prescribed alternatives.

In fact, there are also long-term non-contraceptive health benefits of using oral contraceptives as they:

– Help protect against cancer of the ovaries

– Help protect against symptomatic pelvic inflammatory disease

– May help protect against ovarian cysts

– May help protect against iron-deficiency anemia

– Reduce menstrual cramps

– Reduce menstrual bleeding problems

–  Reduce ovulation pain

– Reduce excess hair on face or body

– Reduce symptoms of polycystic ovarian syndrome

– Reduce symptoms of endometriosis

Myth #7: It’s unhealthy to use birth control to skip your period

It may seem sneaky and taboo to manipulate your monthly flow by taking two months of pills back to back but the truth is- it’s totally safe. If you are a good candidate to be on birth control in the first place, you’re healthy, you don’t have high blood pressure that’s uncontrolled, you’re not over 35 or a smoker then you are indeed a candidate for fiddling around with your cycle. Just be prepared for some breakthrough bleeding.

Read: The Politics of Control and Ownership over Women’s Bodies

Myth #8: Your body needs a break from birth control

The only reason to take a vacation from your contraceptives is if you’re hoping to get pregnant. Other than that, you can stay on your chosen method of birth control for as long as you want. The only exception is to the birth control shot/injection.

Myth #9: Taking the Pill will lead to breast cancer

Because breast cancer is tied to hormones, women often worry that an increased risk of breast cancer could be a birth control side effect. Unfortunately, this is one side effect that is not all myth.

“According to recent studies presented by the American Cancer Society, women who are using birth control pills have a slightly greater risk of breast cancer than women who have never used them”. However this risk only exists while you are actually taking the Pill. “Women who stopped using the Pill more than 10 years ago do not seem to have any increased risk.”

Myth #10: Birth control pills will make me feel crazy

Mood changes are the result of a complex interaction of brain hormones and external factors.  For this reason, it can be difficult to determine the true cause of these swings.  The mood changes associated with PMS (Premenstrual Syndrome) are actually eliminated by taking the pill.  Those changes are associated with the ovary’s production of progesterone after ovulation.  When taking the pills ovulation is stopped, and therefore progesterone is not made.  That being said, some women insist that their moods become more irritable, erratic, and depressed.  While we don’t have a clear physiologic reason for this problem, it is a rare side effect of the pill.

The Pill is an extremely good method of contraception – which is why roughly 100 million women worldwide are taking it. However it’s become evident that a lot of women have something called Hughes’ syndrome (anti-phospholipid syndrome, or APLS). This blood disorder predisposes them to serious blood clotting. If you have Hughes’ syndrome, you should definitely not go on the Pill.