Sexual Health

Misconceptions about Contraception and Birth Control

  • What are the most common forms of contraception? [1 - Mosher, W. D., et. al. Use of contraception and use of family planning services in the United States 1982-2002.  Advance data from vital and health statistics; Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Services; 2004: no 350.]
    • The Pill is the most common form of contraception used by teens and people in their 20s.
    • 30.6% of women use oral contraceptives
    • 18% use a male condom
  • How effective are condoms at preventing an unwanted pregnancy?
    • The effectiveness of a condom depends entirely on correct use of the condom [1 - see above for reference]
    • When a male condom is applied perfectly, the estimated failure rate is 3% which means that in 100 users there would be 3 pregnancies per year. [1- see above for reference]
    • For typical users, however, the estimated failure rate jumps to 14% which would mean that out of 100 typical users, 14 would experience an unwanted pregnancy. [1 - see above for reference]
    • There is also the risk that a condom could tear and that is estimated to be approximately 1 in 165 during vaginal intercourse. [2]
    • The effectiveness of female condoms is also directly related to correct use.  The failure rate for perfect use of a female condom is 3%, however, the failure rate for typical use is 21%. [2]
    • It must be noted that male and female condoms are not meant to be used at the same time. [3]
  • Is withdrawal or "pulling out" an effective form of contraception?
    • In order for withdrawal to work, the penis must be removed before ejaculation, so that only a limited number of sperm are able to enter the vagina. [4]
    • The failure rate for perfect withdrawal is 7%, however, it is almost impossible to achieve this because prior to ejaculation, pre-ejaculation, which can contain sperm, is secreted. [4]
    • The typical failure rate for this method is approximately 22%, which means that more than 20 out of 100 people who use this method have an unplanned pregnancy. [4]
  • How does emergency contraception, also known as Plan B, work and how effective is it?
    • The most common form of emergency contraception is a 2 pill regime, where the pills are taken 12 hours apart within 72 hours of intercourse.  It is available over the counter for women over the age of 17. [5]
    • There is also now a 1 step Plan B, also available over the counter. [5]
    • Plan B works by preventing ovulation and implantation of the fertilized egg.  
    • The cost is between $35 and $60.
    • It provides NO Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI) PROTECTION. [7]
  • What are some other entirely ineffective myths of birth control that are propagated?
    • The following "methods" of birth control are myths and they provide NO actual protection from pregnancy: [4]
      • "Doing everything else" - any sperm near the vagina can cause pregnancy [4]
      • Having sex in certain positions - sperm does not really care about orientation and it can swim against gravity.  Having sex standing up does not protect against pregnancy. [4]
      • Using fertility charts to avoid "one dangerous" day during the month - there are a number of factors that make this method unreliable.  Check a fertility chart and remember that sperm an live for a pretty long time.  Using this method effectively requires accurate tracking of menses and a very strong knowledge of the menstrual cycle.  This method is NOT recommended. [4] [6]
      • Urinating following sex - this will not do anything to get rid of sperm.  It will, however, help prevent urinary tract infections. [4]