Myths & Facts

Common myths and misconceptions about contraception, contraceptive methods and abortion.

Contraception

    1. Myth: I can’t get pregnant the first time I have sex.
      Fact: If you have started your period, you can get pregnant. Generally, younger girls are more fertile than older women and can get pregnant very easily. Don’t believe anyone who tells you that you won’t get pregnant “just this one time.” Insist on protection! (1)
    2. Myth: I can’t get pregnant if I have sex during my period.
      Fact:Many women believe that having unprotected sex during menstruation or during the first or last part of their menstrual cycle will keep them from becoming pregnant. While many women may be more likely to become pregnant mid-cycle (ovulation usually occurs on the tenth day after the first day of your last menstrual period), the chance of conceiving may be higher than previously thought at any time of the month.Sperm can live up to five days in a woman’s body. Women who seek to use their cycles to avoid pregnancy may face poor odds. According to a new scientific report, women who regarded their menstrual cycles as “regular” had a 1-6% probability of being fertile even on the day that their next period was expected to begin. This leaves few “safe” days for natural birth control methods such as the “rhythm method.” (2)
    3. Myth: I’m too old to get pregnant.
      Fact: As long as you are having periods, you can become pregnant. While it is true that the older you get, the less fertile you are, you must consider yourself fertile and able to get pregnant until you have been without periods for at least one full year.After one year without periods, you can forget about birth control and enjoy unprotected sex as long as you are in a monogamous relationship.(3)
    4. Myth: I don’t need contraception, I’m nursing.
      Fact: The World Health Organization and other groups of scientists have conducted and reviewed studies to determine if breastfeeding can effectively prevent pregnancy. Scientists have concluded that 98% of the time breastfeeding is a barrier to conception, if these three criteria are met:

      1. you must be fully or nearly fully breastfeeding. This means you breastfeed in the night as well, avoid formula supplements, and have regular and small intervals between feeding times;
      2. you have not resumed your menstrual periods. Any kind of vaginal bleeding after the 56th postpartum day is a warning that fertility has returned; and
      3. your infant must be younger than six months.(4)
    5. Myth: I can’t get pregnant after childbirth if my period hasn’t begun again.
      Fact:You can get pregnant as soon as you ovulate. Some women ovulate four to six weeks after delivery. Others, particularly breast feeding mums, may have their first ovulation much later.How can you tell if you’ve ovulated? If you have a period. Unfortunately, this is not a good way to predict when you will need contraception, since ovulation happens before your period begins.To avoid pregnancy soon after birth:

      1. Avoid sexual intercourse for six weeks after delivery. This will also allow the uterus to involute properly, the vaginal tissues to heal, and decrease the risk of a uterine infection.
      2. Discuss contraception with your doctor before you leave the hospital. If you plan to go on the pill, a prescription can be given to you at this time and you can start it at the appropriate time. If you plan to use DepoProvera or get an IUCD, let your doctor know so he or she can discuss timing with you.
      3. Do *not* depend on breastfeeding for contraception. Unless you are breastfeeding around the clock without supplementation, you probably won’t get a protective effect. Even then, you can still ovulate and conceive at any time.
      4. Use condoms if there’s any possibility of conceiving.(5)
    6. Myth: Eating pineapples will prevent pregnancy or bring on a period.
      Fact: Pineapples may bring about uterine contractions during early pregnancy. They contain bromelain, an enzyme which can soften the cervix. Their efficacy as an abortifacient or emmenagogue, however, has not been scientifically proven.(6)
    7. Myth: Using vaginal douches after sex can prevent pregnancy.
      Fact: Vaginal douching, or taking baths or showers after sexual intercourse, will do nothing to help prevent pregnancy. That’s because the sperm has already traveled up towards the egg.(7)
    8. Myth: Jumping up and down after sex can prevent pregnancy.
      Fact: There are many who believe that sneezing, coughing, and jumping up and down after sex will dislodge sperm. This is all untrue; sperm are too quick and too tiny for any of these methods to work.(8)

Contraceptive methods

    1. Myth: There is no condom that will fit my male partner.
      Fact:There is no standard length for condoms, but ones made from latex rubber should stretch to fit the length of a man’s erect penis. Condom widths can vary; there is about a 1.5 cm difference between the smallest and largest condom. A condom that is too small and tight may tear, and one that is too big may be more likely to slip off. You and your partner may have to experiment to find one that works for him.Smaller, ‘closer’ fit condoms are typically labeled trim or snug fit. You may find larger condoms labeled as XL, XXL or Magnum. Avanti brand condoms tend to be the largest and least tight. You may find the greatest selection of condoms in both style and size on the Internet rather than in stores.(9)
    2. Myth: My spouse has to consent before I can use contraception.
      Fact: By law you do not need your spouse’s permission for sterilisation, but some doctors prefer both partners to agree to the operation after information and counseling.All reproductive issues, including abortion, contraception and sterilisation, can be performed over the objection of the spouse. Each person has autonomy over his or her own body.Being in a relationship does not mean being joined at the hip or giving up all your rights as an individual. You are still endowed with free will. Use it! (10a & b)
    3. Myth: Condoms are only used by people who have sex outside marriage or who have sex with sex workers.
      Fact: Condoms are an appropriate contraceptive method for anyone, regardless of marital status or sexual behavior. While many casual partners rely on condoms for STI prevention, married couples all over the world use condoms for pregnancy protection, and to avoid and reduce the transmission of disease if either one of the couple has an STI or HIV/AIDS. (11)
    4. Myth: Condoms interfere with sexual pleasure. Vasectomies decrease sexual drive. Either can cause impotence.
      Fact:Some couples become frustrated and lose some of their sexual excitement when they stop to put on a condom. Some partners complain that the condom dulls sensation. However, many couples learn to enjoy using condoms as part of their sexual foreplay. Many couples say they have better sex when they use condoms because they can focus on sexual pleasure without the worry of unintended pregnancy and STIs. Men who ask their partners to put the condom on them may find more pleasure than those who do not use the condom. Using more lubrication may help increase sensation for men using condoms.Vasectomy only involves removing part of the ducts that carry semen. It does not affect penile erection or ejaculation and therefore does not reduce sexual pleasure or sexual drive in men. There are no changes in sex drive or pleasure as male hormones are still being produced. There is no evidence to suggest that condoms or vasectomies cause impotence. Impotence has many causes, some physical, some emotional, but condoms or vasectomies themselves do not cause impotence. (12)”We used the condom for three years after the birth of our first child and had no problems. Love-making was just as pleasurable. What was most important was to always have plenty of condoms on hand.” – A women’s activist.
    5. Myth: Oral contraceptives will cause me to gain weight.
      Fact:Combination birth control pills (COC) are oral contraceptives that combine natural or synthetic estrogens and progestins, similar to the natural sex hormones (estrogen and progesterone) produced in a woman’s body. Weight gain may have occurred with older COCs, but the newer pills contain much lower doses of hormones so that you do not put on weight. You do need to watch your diet and continue with regular exercise, however.Most women do not gain or lose weight as a result of COC use.Although a small number of COC users may report weight change following COC use, studies have found that, on average, COCs do not affect weight. A few women experience sudden changes in weight when using COCs. These changes reverse after they stop taking COCs. It is not known why these women respond to COCs in this way.  Different types of COCs have different effects on weight gain in different individuals. Trying out different COCs may be necessary to find one with the least side effects. (13)
    6. Myth: Oral contraceptives cause scanty menstrual flow and occasional missed periods which may lead to infertility.
      Fact: Scanty menses and occasional missed periods are common beneficial effects of COCs which will not cause future infertility. Normal menstrual flows and fertility will return soon after stopping COCs. (14)
    7. Myth: Oral contraceptives reduce sexual pleasure, interest in sex or cause frigidity.
      Fact: There is no evidence that COCs affect 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 COCs or other life events. A woman’s interest in sex is due to many factors, such as her well-being, her relationship with her partner, and issues dealing with her children, among others. Interest in sex may wax and wane and it is usually not related to the pill. If, however, you believe this to be true for you, try changing COCs. (15)
    8. Myth: Oral contraceptives contain ingredients which are not halal.
      Fact: The combined oral contraceptive pill (COC), often referred to as the birth-control pill or simply “the pill”, is a birth control method that includes a combination of an estrogen (oestrogen) and a progestin (progestogen), or just progestin.  These hormones are similar to the hormones produced by the body during pregnancy. These artificial hormones are chemical products and do not contain any animal by-products. They are therefore halal. The ingredients in COCs have all been certified by the Drug Control Authority of the Malaysian Ministry of Health. (16)
    9. Myth: Using an IUCD will cause me not to have my period or to have more painful periods.
      Fact:You may experience changes in bleeding patterns depending on the IUCD you use. Copper-bearing IUCDs rarely cause monthly bleeding to stop completely. A hormonal levonorgestrel-releasing IUCD (LNG-IUCD) may cause monthly bleeding to stop. Irregular spotting may occur in the first month after insertion. Heavier periods may occur for the first three months after insertion. Copper-bearing IUCDs often cause heavier bleeding and menstrual cramps especially in the first three months of use; periods often revert to normal after that.Only Mirena, an LNG-IUCD which contains a hormone, will cause scanty bleeding and occasional missed periods. Pain associated with periods may increase in some women, but usually only for the first month or two. The LNG-IUCD may reduce the pain associated with menstruation. You should consult a doctor if cramping, prolonged bleeding, or irregular bleeding persists. (17)
    10. Myth: The IUCD will be painful for me and for my partner because the strings will hurt his penis.
      Fact: This happens in only a small percentage of cases. There is no reason why an IUCD should cause discomfort or pain during sex unless you are already having cramps, which sometimes occur during the first few weeks after insertion. Sexual activity cannot displace an IUCD.  Sometimes your partner may feel the strings of the IUCD if they are too long. Asking your doctor to remove the strings or to cut the strings shorter should solve this problem.  Your partner may feel discomfort during sex if the IUCD has begun to be expelled through the cervix. If you suspect this is happening, consult a doctor or nurse immediately. (18)
    11. Myth: The IUCD will lose its effectiveness after a few years and cannot be used for long durations.
      Fact: The hormonal levonorgestrel-releasing IUCD (LNG-IUCD) is approved for up to five years of use. The copper-bearing IUCD is effective for up to twelve years. Most IUCDs are effective for between 8-10 years despite the label information recommending 3-5 yrs. Mirena, an LNG-IUCD, lasts only 5 yrs. The IUCD is 97% effective, which means for every 100 women using it for one year, three will become pregnant. It does not lose its contraceptive effectiveness after only a few years. (19)
    12. Myth: The IUCD can get lost in my body.
      Fact: The IUCD normally stays within the uterus like a seed inside a shell. Rarely, it may perforate the uterine wall into the abdominal cavity. It never travels to other parts of the body. If uterine perforation is suspected, see a doctor immediately. (20)
    13. Myth: The IUCD can cause cancer, STIs, PID or birth defects. Oral contraceptives can cause birth defects or cancer.
      Fact: IUCDs do not cause cancer in otherwise healthy women, but should not be used for women with suspected cancer of the genital tract or breast. IUCDs do not increase the risk of contracting STIs, including HIV. However, women who are at high risk of exposure to gonorrhea or chlamydia should not use it. An IUCD should not be inserted in women who currently have a PID.Overall, levels of PID in IUCD users are low. IUCD use neither causes multiple pregnancies after removal nor increases the risk of birth defects, whether the pregnancy occurs with the IUCD in place, or after removal.Research has shown that COCs will not cause birth defects and will not otherwise harm the fetus if you should become pregnant while on the pill, or if you accidentally start taking it when already pregnant. Though there may sometimes be side effects with the pill, it has not been conclusively linked to cancer; the most recent research suggests that the pill has little, if any, effect on the risk of developing breast cancer. In fact, according to Planned Parenthood, women who use the pill are only 1/3 as likely to get cancer of the ovaries or lining of the uterus as those who do not. Protection against developing these cancers increases with each year of use and can last up to 30 years after stopping COC use.In summary, there is a minimal increase in breast cancer risk but a reduced risk of ovarian cancer, which is a much more dangerous disease. (21)
    14. Myth: If I die and my IUCD is still inside of me, it will interfere with my burial rites as a Muslim.
      Fact: The IUCD is made of plastic and copper and does not contain any medicine or forbidden ingredients. When a woman dies with the IUCD intact, it does not have to be removed, just as a plastic hip replacement or heart pacemaker does not have to be removed from a Muslim upon death. (22)
    15. Myth: If I use an injectable, oral contraceptives or IUCD now, I will not be able to get pregnant in the future after I stop using it.
      Fact: The average time it takes for fertility to return depends on the type of injectable used, but on average it can take between five to ten months after the last injection before you can get pregnant again. There is no evidence that COCs delay a woman’s return to fertility after she stops using them. The pill does not cause any permanent change to your fertility. The IUCD does not cause infertility or delay the return of fertility after it has been removed. (23)
    16. Myth: Using implants will cause harmful changes to my period or I may lose my period forever.
      Fact: Changes in menstrual bleeding commonly occur with implant use. Typically, changes in bleeding patterns occur during the first year of use and these changes either lessen or stop after that period of use. Prolonged or heavy bleeding lasting over eight days or generating twice as much blood as normal due to implants is not harmful. If bleeding is prolonged or heavy beyond these limits, consult a doctor immediately. Periods may also cease after one or two years of implant use, which is not harmful. There is no blood build-up inside of you. (24)
    17. Myth: Female and male sterilisation are irreversible.
      Fact: In female sterilisation, your fallopian tubes are cut, sealed or blocked by an operation. This stops the egg and sperm meeting. In male sterilisation, the tubes (vas deferens) that carry sperm from your testicles to your penis are cut, sealed or blocked.Sterilisation is meant to be permanent. There are reversal operations, but they are not always successful. The success will depend upon how and when you were sterilised. Reversal can be difficult and expensive to obtain privately. (25)

Abortion

    1. Myth: Abortion is illegal in Malaysia.
      Fact:No. In Malaysia, abortion is permitted under the following circumstances:

      1. to save the woman’s life
      2. to protect the woman’s physical health
      3. to protect the woman’s mental health.

      Mental health can encompass, for example, psychological distress suffered by a woman who has been raped by a man, or severe strain caused by social or economic circumstances.
      The Penal Code 312 (Amendment) Act 1989 in Malaysia effected a change in the law relating to abortion. It is legal if:

      1. a medical practitioner registered under the Medical Act 1971 undertakes the procedure; and
      2. the practitioner is of the opinion, formed in good faith, that the continuance of the
        pregnancy would involve risk to the life of the pregnant woman, or injury to the mental or
        physical health of the pregnant woman, greater than if the pregnancy were terminated.A doctor performing an abortion may lawfully do so only if he or she acts in good faith, and
        exercises sound clinical judgment in accordance with the principles imposed by the law. (26)
    2. Myth: Abortion is not allowed in Islam.
      Fact: No. In 2002, the national Fatwa Committee in Malaysia issued a fatwa (legal advisory under syariah law) declaring that an abortion after 120 days gestation is considered murder unless the mother’s life is in danger or there is fetal impairment. However, this was not publicized or adopted by states. This national liberal fatwa is in keeping with the majority of Muslim countries where abortion is conditionally permitted for health and sometimes social reasons up to the time of ensoulment, usually around four months. (27)
    3. Myth: Abortion is murder.
      Fact:Only a person can be murdered. Therefore, abortion is not murder unless one considers the fetus to be a person. According to Roe v. Wade in the US, the word “person” does not include the unborn, and a fetus does not have equal status with the mother until the point of viability, or when the fetus can exist outside of the mother’s womb. In addition, according to common law in criminal matters, the definition of a “person” is one who has been born alive.There is no passage in any holy book that forbids women from choosing to terminate a pregnancy, or that condemns those who help them.Abortion does result in the death of a fetus. Science thus far has been unable to determine the moment life begins. For women who believe that life begins at conception, abortion would not be an option. For women who believe that life begins at a later gestational stage such as at ensoulment (16 weeks) or when a fetus is able to live outside a mother’s womb (22 weeks), the law upholds her right to an abortion under specific circumstances. (28)
    4. Myth: Abortion is more dangerous than childbirth.
      Fact: No. Abortion is safer than childbirth. In the US, 0.6 out of 100,000 abortions result in death while 13 out of 100,000 live births result in death. In Malaysia, the corresponding figures are 27 and 33. (In 2002, the Malaysian Ministry of Health reported 9 out of 33,759 induced abortions resulted in deaths nationwide, based on hospital admissions.) (29)
    5. Myth: When abortion is banned, maternal mortality rates go down. Legalizing abortion has no impact on maternal deaths.
      Fact: No. The 2008 World Health Report documents the relationship between the degree of legal access to abortion and deaths attributable to unsafe abortion. The more liberal the laws, the lower the death rate due to unsafe abortions. In South Africa, a change in legislation increased women’s access resulting in a 91 per cent drop in abortion-related deaths. (30)
    6. Myth: Women who have abortions have a higher rate of breast cancer. Abortion causes fertility problems.
      Fact: No. In February 2003, the US National Cancer Institute convened a symposium of over 100 of the world’s leading experts who study pregnancy and the risk of breast cancer. They concluded that having an abortion does not increase a woman’s subsequent risk of developing breast cancer. Also, safe abortion does not increase the risk of future infertility or pregnancy problems, though sexual transmitted diseases and unsafe abortion do. (31)
    7. Myth: Abortion causes depression and long-term psychological trauma. There is a significantly higher suicide rate among legal abortion clients in the first year after their abortion.
      Fact: No. The most reliable indicator of whether a woman will experience feelings of distress after an abortion is her emotional stability before the abortion. Women indicate that the most common feeling after the completion of an abortion is relief. While some women also experience a sense of loss, sadness, or grief, having an abortion is not associated with long-term psychological distress.The link between abortion and higher rates of suicide does not appear to be based on solid evidence, but on anecdotal evidence from the US. Even if the statement were true, there is no scientific evidence to support it. (32)
    8. Myth: Increasing the availability of abortion encourages promiscuity and unprotected sex among teens.
      Fact: No. Studies show that well-designed comprehensive sexuality education can actually cause teenagers to wait longer before having sex, and increase their use of contraceptives to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. (33)
    9. Myth: If couples were more responsible and used reliable contraception, there would not be unwanted pregnancies.
      Fact: No. Women get pregnant under a variety of circumstances and each has different reasons for having an abortion. This wrongly implies that many sexually active women do not use contraception and use abortion as a means of birth control. In the US, most women who have abortions used a contraceptive during the month they became pregnant. While contraceptive use can greatly reduce unwanted pregnancies, it cannot eliminate them. (34)
    10. Myth: Adoption, not abortion, should be the preferred solution for unwanted pregnancies.
      Fact: It depends. For many women, adoption is the right decision. For others, it isn’t. Each woman facing an unplanned pregnancy is the best judge of her own situation, and must have the right to decide for herself. (35)

 


Sources:

  1. Tracee Cornforth. 2009. Top 10 Contraceptive Myths.
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  4. Breastfeeding Information. 2006. Can I Become Pregnant If I’m Breastfeeding?
  5. Wiki Answers. 2010. How soon after giving birth can you become pregnant?
  6. Wolters Kluwer Health. 2009. Complete Pineapple Information.
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  8. Dawn Stacey M.Ed, LMHC. 2009. Common Birth Control Myths and Sex Myths (and then the actual birth control facts).
  9. Dawn Stacey M.Ed, LMHC. 2009. How Do I Decide About Condom Use and Condom Types?
  10. Fischer, Conrad & Oneto, Caterina. 2006. Kaplan Medical USMLE Medical Ethics: The 100 Cases You are Most Likely to See on the Exam. New York, NY: Kaplan Publishing. P. 42.; FPA (UK). 2009.null
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  12. International Planned Parenthood Federation. Resources/null.
  13. International Planned Parenthood Federation. Resources/null.
  14. Dawn Stacey M.Ed, LMHC. 2009. Combination Birth Control Pills.
  15. International Planned Parenthood Federation. Resources/null
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  17. International Planned Parenthood Federation. Resources/null
  18. International Planned Parenthood Federation. Resources/null
  19. International Planned Parenthood Federation. Resources/null
  20. International Planned Parenthood Federation. Resources/null
  21. International Planned Parenthood Federation. Resources/null
  22. Sisters in Islam and Kelantan Family Planning Association. 2001. Islam and Family Planning.
  23. International Planned Parenthood Federation. Resources/null
  24. International Planned Parenthood Federation. Resources/null
  25. FPA (UK). 2009. null.
  26. Center for Reproductive Rights. May 2008.; Malaysian Medical Association Code of Medical Ethics. May 2001.
  27. Sisters in Islam. 2001. Islam and Family Planning; Abdel Rahim Omran. 1992. Family Planning in the Legacy of Islam. London: Routledge;  Leila Hessini. 2007. “Abortion and Islam: Policies and Practices in the Middle East and North Africa.” IPAS; Center for Reproductive Rights / Asian-Pacific Resource and Research Center for Women. 2005. Women of the World: Laws and Policies Affecting Their Reproductive Lives. East and Southeast Asia: Malaysia.
  28. Catholics for a Free Choice. 2000. “The Bible and the Fetus.” Personhood, the Bible, and the Abortion Debate; Marlena Sobel. Abortion Myths. 1998. Institute for First Amendment Studies Inc.
  29. National Abortion Federation. 2003; Rashidah Abdullah. May 2007. RRAAM Position Paper; Ministry of Health Annual Report Malaysia. 2004; Center for Reproductive Rights / Asian-Pacific Resource and Research Center for Women. 2005. Women of the World: Laws and Policies Affecting Their Reproductive Lives. East and Southeast Asia: Malaysia.
  30. Vasantha Kandiah, World Health Organization reproductive health consultant (retired). July 2009. Personal correspondence with RRAAM; World Health Organization. 2007. Maternal Mortality in 2005: Estimates Developed by WHO, UNICEF, UNFPA and World Bank. Geneva: World Health Organization; World Health Organization. 2008. “Now More than Ever.” World Health Report. Pg. 65, fig 4.1. Geneva: World Health Organization.
  31. National Abortion Federation. 2003; Women on Waves. 2008.
  32. National Abortion Federation. 2003; Vasantha Kandiah, World Health Organization reproductive health consultant (retired). July 2009. Personal correspondence with RRAAM.
  33. Alan Guttmacher Institute. 2001. “Can More Progress Be Made? Teenage Sexual and Reproductive Behavior in Developed Countries.”; Alan Guttmacher Institute. 2001. “Induced Abortion.” Facts in Brief.
  34. KidsHealth. 2012. Birth Control Methods: How Well Do They Work?; Planned Parenthood. Comparing Effectiveness of Birth Control Methods.
  35. Marshall University Women’s Center. 2012. Abortion, Adoption, and Pregnancy.