By Kendall McKenzie
This has been a tough rumor to shake, because it seems everyone (myself included) knows somebody who swears their birth control made them pack on the pounds. But, studies have concluded that most forms of hormonal birth control — such as the pill, patch, ring, implant, and hormonal IUD — do not cause weight gain. The only method that’s associated with weight gain is the Depo Provera birth control shot, but not everybody will experience this.
The most recent research shows that these methods have little, if any, effect on developing breast cancer. In fact, certain forms of hormonal birth control can actually DECREASE your chances of getting other types of cancers, such as ovarian and endometrial cancers. As with all medications, birth control has risks, but cancer isn’t one of them. Some types of birth control may be less safe for certain people (smokers over 35, for example), so talk with your doctor to find a method that will be best for you.
The only kind of birth control that’s permanent is sterilization. All other types of birth control allow you to safely get pregnant after you stop using them, often very quickly. In fact, as soon as you stop your birth control method, you’re at risk for pregnancy. The one exception to this (again) is Depo Provera, the birth control shot. It may take up to 6-10 months to be able to get pregnant after stopping the shot. No matter what, if you’re going to go off birth control but still want to prevent pregnancy, make sure you immediately begin using a backup, like condoms.
DUDE, NO. Birth control does NOT cause an abortion or end a pregnancy. Birth control PREVENTS pregnancy. Here’s how:
1. Stopping ovulation. Hormonal methods work by stopping your ovaries from releasing eggs for as long as you’re using the method. No egg hanging around for sperm to fertilize = no pregnancy.
2. Thickening cervical mucus. Hormonal methods can also increase the amount of natural mucus on your cervix (the opening to your uterus that kinda feels like a tiny, slimy donut). The thicker mucus makes it difficult for sperm to enter your uterus or swim well enough to fertilize an egg. (The difference won’t be noticeable to you or your partners, however — just the spermies.)
3. Blocking sperm from entering the vagina or uterus. Barrier methods like condoms and female condoms physically stop sperm from getting to that very important meeting with your egg.
4. Killing sperm and/or affecting sperm motility. Spermicide, which comes in many forms, does exactly what it sounds like: blocks and paralyzes the sperm so it can’t swim to the egg. Spermicide isn't super great at preventing pregnancy by itself, but you can increase its effectiveness by combining it with condoms or other barrier methods, like a diaphragm or cervical cap. The copper wrapped around ParaGard (non-hormonal) IUDs is also like sperm kryptonite. It totally harshes their sperm buzz and keeps them from reaching an egg. Unlike spermicide, IUDs are one of the most effective birth control methods available.
So, why does the myth that birth control causes abortions still exist? Well, the medical community defines pregnancy as beginning after a fertilized egg attaches to the uterus, which is when pregnancy hormones are first released. Some people, however, believe that life begins right when the egg is fertilized, and that birth control methods may prevent a fertilized egg from attaching to the uterus — therefore equating using birth control with having abortions.
There’s no scientific evidence to support this claim, however, and it’s worth noting that more than 50 percent of fertilized eggs naturally fail to implant, whether or not birth control is in the picture. The bottom line is, birth control methods prevent FERTILIZATION — when a sperm and an egg join forces.
Though emergency contraception (aka the morning-after pill) is taken after unprotected sex, it won’t cause an abortion. In fact, most morning-after pills contain the exact same hormones that many birth control pills have, just in a higher dosage. They function the same way too: preventing your ovary from releasing an egg. And remember: no egg = no pregnancy.
It seems like magic — how can you prevent pregnancy after you’ve already been paid a visit by the sperm fairy? With science! Pregnancy doesn’t happen immediately after boom-boom time. Sperm can live in your body up to six days(!) after unprotected sex. If you ovulate within that six-day window, you may become pregnant. Taking the morning-after pill, however, delays ovulation until after the sperm have died, so all those swimmers waiting around for your egg will be outta luck. This is why most morning-after pills are more likely to work the sooner you take them. The morning-after pill is a safe and effective way to prevent pregnancy, but it will not end an existing pregnancy or harm a fetus. The reason it’s recommended for use in “emergencies” is not because it’s dangerous, but because it’s simply less effective than other methods of birth control that prevent ovulation round-the-clock (like the pill, ring, IUD, implant, shot, or patch).
I cannot stress this enough: Birth control ISN’T just about, well, birth control. People who aren’t sexually active use it. Lesbians use it. People who are treating a medical condition AND want to prevent pregnancy use it. In fact, up to 58 percent of people on the pill rely on it for reasons other than baby-free sex. Different types of birth control provide different benefits, but some of the non-contraceptive reasons people take birth control include: to alleviate PMS symptoms, clear up acne, lighten menstrual flow, lessen cramps, control or eliminate periods, reduce the symptoms of endometriosis, and treat anemia.
And, pregnancy prevention is also health care. Pregnancy is a pretty serious and intense process, and complications can pop up (which is why good prenatal care is so important). Being able to plan a pregnancy for when you’re ready and can access quality health care is crucial for women’s and families’ health. And the good news is, the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) mandates that all insurance plans cover at least some forms of birth control 100 percent, with no copay. Fist bump!
Beyond serving as a go-to source for vital reproductive care, the folks at Planned Parenthood— a team of knowledgeable experts in medicine, sexual health, and law — are passionate, informed advocates for knowing your own body. Planned Parenthood is here to tackle the big issues.