Every question you have about the birth control pill, answered
Nearly 47 million U.S. women used some form of contraceptive from 2015 to 2017. The second most common form is oral contraceptive, behind only pregnancy prevention surgery, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. With countless theories just a click away, women may be left wondering how the pill actually works and what effects it has on their minds and bodies. We talked to local OB-GYN Dr. Errick Arroyo to bust some common myths about birth control pills.
Myth: The birth control pill kills eggs that have already been fertilized.
What the doctor says: The birth control pill prevents pregnancy by stopping ovulation, or the process of a mature egg being released from an ovary. If no egg is released, no egg is available to be fertilized.
“There’s sometimes the misconception that the pill works because it causes early abortions,” Arroyo says. “It keeps you from ovulating so you don’t get pregnant in the first place.”
Myth: Taking birth control pills increases your risk of cancer.
What the doctor says: The pill can actually help prevent certain cancers. According to Arroyo, ovarian cancer is a common fear for women because it’s difficult to detect in its early stages (read more about ovarian cancer symptoms on page 16). Because birth control pills stop you from ovulating, he says, they decrease the risk of ovarian cancer.
“[In ovulation], the ovary kind of breaks open to release the egg, and then it repairs itself and heals,” he says. “We think in that healing, something goes wrong, and it can spark cancer.” He says studies show birth control pills can decrease the risk of uterine cancer as well.
Myth: The only reason women go on birth control pills is to prevent pregnancy.
What the doctor says: Many women go on the pill to regulate their periods, lighten their flow and decrease cramps.
“There are many women who feel that heavy flow is a normal rite of passage, but it certainly does not have to be,” Arroyo says. “Many times, they lose way too much blood and they can become anemic.” He says the pill can also benefit your skin by decreasing hair growth and oil production, which can combat acne.
Myth: It’s dangerous to never have your period.
What the doctor says: Some people find it too unnatural to not have their period each month, but that doesn’t mean it’s unsafe. Normally, not having your period causes the uterine lining to build up each month, which can be dangerous. But on the pill, because there’s such a thin uterine lining, there isn’t any buildup. Arroyo says it’s safe to skip the placebo or no pill week and go straight into the next pack of pills to jumpstart your next cycle. But because the uterine lining is so thin, he says you still may have random spotting.
Myth: Birth control pills only have physical side effects.
What the doctor says: Birth control pills can cause mood swings, especially when your body is first adjusting to them. After all, you’re feeding yourself hormones. Common mood changes include an increase in anxiety or depression and a decrease in libido. If someone already struggles with mental health, Arroyo suggests looking into a non-hormonal birth control method or an IUD, which has a localized effect in the uterus and doesn’t circulate hormones throughout the body.
What birth control method is right for you?
How it works: One pill a day at the same time every day
Who it’s good for: Disciplined women who want to control when they have their period
How it works: New patch on the body weekly for three weeks, no patch week four
Who it’s good for: Someone who isn’t trying to hide their contraceptive and doesn’t have easily irritated skin
How it works: Get a shot once every three months.
Who it’s good for: Someone who is okay with needles and can get to the doctor on time
How it works: Fold ring in half and insert like a tampon. Leave in for three weeks, go ringless for one.
Who it’s good for: Someone who is comfortable with their body and doesn’t easily get vaginal irritation
How it works: A professional inserts a tiny rod under the skin on the upper arm. Protects for up to four years
Who it’s good for: Someone who isn’t squirmy and can’t remember to use birth control regularly
How it works: A medical professional places a T-shaped piece of plastic in the uterus, which controls the way sperm move. Protects for three to 12 years
Who it’s good for: Most everyone, including new parents or someone who wants a non-hormonal option