Your Birth Control Questions, Answered

When it comes to women’s health, the internet can be both a helpful tool and a major source of false information. In an effort to combat some of the less-than-accurate sources out there, we teamed up with Allergan to bring you some facts, straight from healthcare providers.

Think back to the very first time you decided to explore your birth control options. Chances are, before you reached out to a healthcare provider for a visit and possible prescription, you did a little poking around on the internet. Now, there’s certainly nothing wrong with a bit of online exploration — it’s where we consume about 99% of our news, social updates, and cute pet video content, after all — but when it comes to women’s health, especially contraception, the web turns into a minefield of personal opinions, fake sites masquerading as reputable medical sources, and well-meaning message boards chock-full of not-quite-accurate information.

We firmly believe your health (and ours too!) is far too important to be left up to guesswork. So to put the power in your hands and help cut through the noise, we connected with paid Allergan consultant Jessica Shepherd, MD, and asked her to discuss some myths surrounding birth control that she often hears from her patients. Read on, and be sure to bring any follow-up questions to your own healthcare provider (clearly, they’ve heard it all). Ready to separate the facts from the fiction?

Illustrated by Janet Sung.

So, you and your partner have been screened for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and want to have sex without a condom. You’re in the clear if you pick up your first-ever pill pack the day of, right? According to Dr. Shepherd, the belief that patients are protected against pregnancy from the moment they take their first pill is more common than you might imagine. “There’s an assumption that the pill starts working right away, when you really need a backup method for seven days,” she says. “Until then — and if you start taking the pill on any day other than the first day of your period — you should be using a backup method of birth control, such as a condom and spermicide, to reduce the risk of getting pregnant.” Mark off at least a week’s worth of time on your calendar, pick up a box of condoms (reminder: these are the only form of birth control that protects against STIs), and be sure to reach out to your healthcare provider with any questions.

Illustrated by Janet Sung.

While a quick poll of the Refinery29 office yielded many varying beliefs on this topic, Dr. Shepherd’s final word is clear and backed by research. “When studies are done on birth control pill effectiveness, they are based on clinical studies,” she explains. “Birth control pills are formulated and intended to be taken every day at the same time.”

“I would say most failures in contraceptives have to do with the consistency in which the pill was being taken.” Luckily, sticking to this rule is simple once you get the hang of it. Dr. Shepherd recommends setting a designated alarm or incorporating taking the pill into a part of your day that already adheres to a regular routine, like brushing your teeth in the morning. If you have any questions about how to take birth control pills, reach out to your healthcare provider.

Illustrated by Janet Sung.

Lumping all oral contraceptives under one umbrella called “the pill” might make it sound like it’s a one-size-fits-all deal, but there are actually many different types of birth control pills on the market today. Why choose one variation or brand over another? While your healthcare provider is the best person to help you make that call, Dr. Shepherd explains that some patients may need to try out a few different types before finding the birth control method that's appropriate for them.

“There are a lot of varying levels of progesterone and estrogen in different birth control pills,” she explains. Everybody is different, so ask your healthcare provider as many questions as needed to find out which birth control method is right for you.

Every few months, enticing headlines pop up espousing major leaps and bounds in the efforts to create prescription birth control specifically formulated for male bodies. While this isn’t total fiction, Dr. Shepherd warns there’s still major work to be done. “Over the summer, there was a lot of buzz about developing prescription birth control, like an oral or injectable option, for men,” she says. “It’s in very early stages, though, and I don’t think it is anywhere near being on the market.” Don’t get too excited just yet.

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