We all hold our own beliefs about sexual health and wellness — and some of them may be more fiction than fact. Take charge of your own health, and body, start by knowing the right facts. Here we share 15 common myths about women’s sexual health, and birth control, as well as the truth behind them.
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Common Misconceptions around Women’s Sexual Wellness and Birth Control
1. The emergency pill is an abortion pill.
False — The morning-after pill works by preventing or delaying ovulation. This helps to minimize the chance of a sperm meeting an egg in your body, reducing the possibility of pregnancy occurring.
There are two types of the morning-after pill: one containing ulipristal acetate and another containing levonorgestrel. Pills that contain ulipristal acetate have been shown to be 2.5 times more effective than levonorgestrel when taken within 24 hours of unprotected sex.
2. The emergency pill should be used as your regular form of birth control.
False — As the name suggests, emergency contraception is intended for occasional use in emergencies only. Unlike monthly contraceptives, the morning-after pill works by preventing or delaying ovulation and hence doesn’t offer long-lasting protection against pregnancy. If you think you’ll need to use birth control regularly, you should consider the monthly pill instead.
3. You cannot get pregnant if you have sex during your period.
False — while the probability is extremely low, pregnancy may still happen. Depending on how long your ovulation period is and when you have unprotected sex, there is a chance of a pregnancy occurring. This is because sperm can survive within the reproductive system for up to 5 days.
As such, always use a form of contraceptive, whether it’s birth control pills or a condom when you’re having sex to be safe. If you had unprotected sex or if your primary birth control method did not work, emergency contraceptive pills can help. Speak to a friendly GP anytime on the DA app for a prescription, as soon as you’re able to.
4. Going on birth control doesn’t affect your fertility in the long run.
True — Birth control (unless you opt for a surgical procedure, such as ligation) does not have a long-term impact on your fertility.
Once you're off birth control, you can expect your menstrual cycle to return to normal fairly quickly; this also means the return of your fertility. For women on the monthly birth control pill, this can happen almost immediately — as such, your doctor may advise you to go off the pill only when you’re ready to start a family.
5. Sperm can live for up to 24 hours after it’s released.
False — as shared above, after ejaculation, sperm can live up to 5 days in a woman’s uterus!
Fertilization may also occur if this sperm meets an egg. This is why pregnancy may occur if you have unprotected sex during your period. As such, the general advice is to always use contraceptives or birth control, if you are not ready to start a family.
6. Emergency contraceptives are only effective within 24 hours of having unprotected sex.
False — while emergency contraceptives, such as the morning-after pill, are usually more effective, the sooner you take it after sex, it can be effective for up to 3 - 5 days, depending on the type you’ve chosen.
There are two main types of morning-after pills that can be prescribed by your doctor:
Ulipristal acetate works up to 120 hours (5 days) after unprotected sex. It lowers your chances of getting pregnant by up to 98% throughout the entire five-day window; and
Levonorgestrel works up to 72 hours after unprotected sex but is generally not recommended after 24 hours. It lowers your chances of getting pregnant by up to 95% if taken within the first 24 hours but this declines to 85% if taken between 25 – 48 hours and 58% if taken between 48 – 72 hours after unprotected intercourse.
If you need emergency contraception, visit a doctor as soon as possible, ideally within 24 hours of unprotected sex.
7. Having regular sex can boost your immune system.
True — sex can improve your immune system, which can keep you from falling ill.
A study conducted among college students showed that individuals who had sex more frequently (1 - 2 times a week) had higher levels of immunoglobulin A (IgA). IgA is an antibody that prevents illness and keeps you well.
8. Your pain tolerance increases during sex.
True — you may find that your sensitivity to pain increases during sex.
During sex, your body releases endorphins, which are your body’s natural painkillers. Additionally, some research has shown that sex may help to alleviate migraines and headaches.
9. Birth control can help improve how your skin looks.
True — in addition to preventing pregnancy, hormonal birth control has many other benefits, including improving skin conditions.
Hormonal birth control, such as monthly pills, can help with controlling hormonal acne; as they regulate your hormone levels. You may need to take these pills for a few months before seeing the positive effects.
10. Using two condoms while having sex means you’re twice as protected.
False — instead of giving you additional protection, using two condoms may place you at greater risk of an accident.
Wearing two condoms could create more friction leading to the condoms breaking during sex. It’s more important that your partner wears a well-fitted condom for protection.
11. Exercising regularly can improve your sex life.
True — regular exercise can increase your libido and sex drive.
Being physically active also decreases your stress levels and improves your cardiovascular health and endurance. All of these contribute to a better experience when you’re having sex.
12. Sex burns as much calories as when we work out.
False — sex isn’t as intensive a workout, as you imagine it to be. A 2013 study tracked the energy expenditure of heterosexual couples during exercise and sexual activity. They found that the overall energy used during sex was less than the energy you'd spend while jogging or during a 30-minute exercise session.
13. Peeing after sex helps to prevent infections.
True — if you are particularly prone to infections, such as Urinary Tract Infections (UTI), urinating after having sex can help with this issue.
During sex, bacteria may accidentally enter your urethra, which is part of your urinary tract. Peeing after sex flushes out these germs so that you’re less likely to get an infection. Try to do this within 30 minutes, to reduce the time these bacteria spend in your body.
If you are suffering from frequent UTIs, it’s good to check in with a doctor to determine if there could be a more serious reason for this. Speak to a friendly GP or specialist anytime on the DA app, whenever you need.
14. Drinking cranberry juice cures UTIs.
False — cranberry juice cannot treat UTIs; your doctor will prescribe you antibiotics, to help you fight off the infection.
Some studies show that drinking cranberry juice or taking cranberry supplements can help with preventing UTIs; and that the effectiveness of cranberry can differ across individuals. Even so, there’s no harm in taking cranberries to help!
15. All STDs will have visible symptoms.
False — there are STDs that may not show visible symptoms, even if a person is infected.
Examples of such STDs include chlamydia and HPV. Despite being asymptomatic, these infections can still spread between partners. The best way to protect yourself from an STD is by wearing a condom during sex, especially if you’re not in a committed relationship with your partner.
16. Birth control will decrease your sex drive.
False — going on birth control doesn’t necessarily mean your sex drive will be lowered.
While you may experience some side effects, such as a slightly decreased libido, when you first start on birth control, this shouldn’t be permanent, once your body gets used to the changes in hormones. There are also other factors that affect your interest in sex: your emotional connection with your partner, mental health and stressors in your life.
17. Birth control can help regulate your period.
True — in addition to improving your skin health, birth control can help to manage your period and menstrual cycle.
If you struggle with heavy periods, you can consider going on monthly contraceptives to regulate your cycle. Your doctor will be able to advise you on what birth control method is most suitable for your lifestyle.
For more questions about women’s sexual health and wellness, consult a female doctor for advice on the DA app from the comfort of your home. We’re here to support you on your health journey, whenever needed.