Top 7 Birth Control and Abortion Myths
We all know that standard (a.k.a. latex and polyurethane) condoms don’t have little holes in them to let the AIDS swim right through (as a woman accompanying Brother Jed once solemnly told me), that the amount of birth control pills someone takes doesn’t correlate with the amount of sex they are having, and that you don’t get STIs from having sex during menstruation (true story: one religious book I read claimed this was the case), right? One would hope.
On the other hand, there are plenty of notions floating around concerning the prevention of dropping unwanted crotch-fruit that are simply false, but make sense on some level.
#7: Hormone-laden pee is destroying the fish population.
This was one that I fell for, and I’m not the only skeptically-minded person who did. After all, it makes somewhat intuitive sense: the Pill is the most common form of birth control; all people pee, including people who take the Pill; therefore, you do the math. The story has been making headlines for a little while now.
birth control pills contribute only a negligible amount of estrogen to the water supply, and this estrogen is minimal or nonexistent in drinking water. In fact, estrogen from the pill is only one among thousands of estrogen-mimicking chemicals that appear in rivers and streams — almost all come from industry, agriculture, landfills, and other sources.
I’m sure many of us are disappointed that our mighty urine is incapable of destroying all of the poor little fishies.
#6: Lactation is an effective birth control method.
The problem with relying on breastfeeding as a method of birth control is that, in order for it to be effective, a new mother has to exclusively nurse her child. This means no supplementing with outside food to ensure sufficient lactation for fertility suppression. For a lot of mothers, the stress of being a new parent to an infant can be exacerbated by breastfeeding issues. After all, just because it’s “natural” doesn’t mean it’s easy. It’s not at all uncommon for a new mother to supplement breastfeeding with formula feeding.
Additionally, this method only works for six months, tops. It’s much safer for a nursing mother to use another method of pregnancy prevention (that doesn’t affect milk supply, of course).
#5: People who have abortions are more prone to mental health issues.
As adamantly pro-choice as I am, I hereby guiltily admit that I sometimes thought that this might make sense. An abortion is a Big Deal and women need counseling and such afterwards. As it turns out, that is wrong. In fact, the study that “proved” this to be the case was flawed in several ways. As with the fish issue, though, I doubt anti-choice websites will be updating their information anytime soon with the further findings.
#4: Condoms have an [insert percentage here] failure rate.
This is one that people love to tout when preaching against sex. I’ve heard people claim all kinds of numbers, anywhere from 7% to even 20%, in terms of condom failure rate.
The failure rate most commonly cited is not that which is associated with condoms themselves, but human error. Condoms themselves are 98% effective with perfect use. Via Pervocracy (which has its own myths list that is quite worth perusing):
All “perfect use” means in the case of condoms is using them every time, and using them for the entire duration of PIV sex. There’s a few more catches–you shouldn’t reuse condoms, you should throw them away instead of turning them inside out if you put them on wrong the first time, you should use lube but nothing oil-based, and you shouldn’t double-bag–but honestly, most of those are statistically minor. The biggest factor in “perfect use” of condoms is actually using them.
Apparently, “failure rate” means something like “failure to use the things in the first place,” not “condoms failing.”
#3: “Pull-out” and the “rhythm method” don’t work.
The former refers to the practice where penile-vaginal intercourse occurs, but ejaculation occurs outside of the vagina. The reason cited by most people as to why withdrawal doesn’t work is the notion that pre-ejaculatory fluid could contain sperm and thus impregnate someone. However, this is a rare occurrence and urinating before sexual activity eliminates the risk. The main issue with the pull-out method is that it relies on a level of knowledge and self-control that is not innate but takes a great deal of practice. As with condoms, this is an issue of human fallibility, not a failure of the method itself.
The so-called “rhythm method,” also known as natural family planning and the fertility awareness method, is where a person charts and tracks menstrual cycles in order to determine fertility levels. There are many ways of determining fertility level, including temperature-taking, mucus-checking, and testing. The problem with this method is that, as with withdrawal, it’s highly prone to human error. Not all people have consistent cycles and not all people are disciplined enough to adhere to sex schedules (or use alternative methods when fertile).
#2: IUDs are only for people who have given birth and are less safe than the Pill.
The first notion comes from some very outdated information. In the past, IUDs were considered viable options only for people who had given birth, i.e. people whose cervices had been dilated already. Modern IUDs are perfectly safe and suitable for people who have never given birth. Those who have never given birth are more likely to have an IUD expel, but expulsion is still a fairly rare occurrence.
The second misconception comes from history. The infamous Dalkon Shield was a type of IUD that caused all sorts of problems and gave IUDs a bad name. Modern IUDs are safe and effective as well as growing in popularity for their convenience and lower dose of, or complete lack of, hormones.
On a related note, though the Pill is often considered the default non-barrier birth control option, there are many options out there that might be better for some people. Planned Parenthood has an excellent, easy-to-take test to determine which form is best for you.
#1: Because of Roe v. Wade, any American can get an abortion.
Abortion might be legal, but access to it is definitely not widespread in the U.S. Anything from cost to regional availability to state restrictions can make getting an abortion almost impossible. A Supreme Court case in favor of reproductive choice means nothing to someone who lives in a rural area and lacks access to money and transportation.
Note: I tried my best to avoid unnecessarily-gendered/cissexist language in this piece; the sources I cite are not necessarily as language-aware as I wish I could find. If I’ve made any errors or you have any suggestions, please let me know.
Main photo via.
Update (3/11/12): After several commenters rightly pointed out that it was from a questionable source, I have removed the reference to the statistics sheet from The Business of Being Born.