Contraceptive pill myths
The contraceptive pill is one of the most popular forms of contraception in the UK. But, as with many popular medicines, there are a number of myths surrounding the contraceptive pill that have little basis in truth. Here we look at some common misconceptions associated with the contraceptive pill, and sort the fact from the fiction.
1. The contraceptive pill makes you put on weight.
False. This is one of the most common beliefs about the pill. Whilst every medicine comes with its own set of possible side effects, they rarely affect most people.
In the case of the contraceptive pill, very few women will experience weight gain in the sense of increased body fat because of taking the pill. Any perceived weight gain caused by the pill is generally caused by mild fluid retention.
2. The contraceptive pill makes you moody.
False. While it is true that the contraceptive pill contains synthetic forms of hormones and mood swings can be a mild side effect when you first start the pill, the majority of women will not find their moods affected.
Some types of contraceptive pill are actually used to help with mood swings attributed to changes in hormonal cycle.
3. The contraceptive pill will make you infertile.
False. The contraceptive pill will not affect your ability to conceive when you stop taking it. Some women may find that their menstrual cycle can take a little bit of time to get back to normal once they come off the pill, but it will not affect their fertility in the long term.
It should be noted, though, that the contraceptive pill is not a barrier form of contraception and it will not stop you from contracting a sexually transmitted infection (STI). If left untreated, STIs can in some cases lead to infertility.
For more information on tests and treatments for STIs, you can visit our online sexual health clinic.
4. My skin will get worse on the contraceptive pill.
False. It is generally considered that taking the combined pill can help improve the quality of your skin. In fact, the pill Dianette is a treatment for severe acne which also acts as a contraceptive.
It should be noted, however, that the mini pill (progestogen-only pill) can in some cases make your skin worse. You should always talk to your GP if you find that your pill is affecting your skin badly, and discuss changing to a different pill or form of contraception.
5. Taking the pill comes with a high risk of cancer.
False. According to the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Health, the contraceptive pill is thought to have some relation to certain types of cancer, but it is generally accepted that the risks are very small.
Research has shown that there is a link between the number of women who are on the pill and those who develop cervical cancer. However it is unclear if taking the pill has an effect on the chances of developing the condition, or if other risk factors apply, such as the human papilloma virus (HPV). HPV is passed on during sex and normally has no symptoms but it can be detected when you have a smear test.
There are similar risks associated with women on the pill getting breast cancer, however it is thought that this increased risk, however small, is likely to decrease once you stop taking the pill. It is important to consider that women who have developed breast cancer may have had other risk factors associated with their health which may have also contributed towards developing cancer.
There have been studies suggesting women on the pill actually have a reduced risk of developing ovarian cancer as the artificial hormonal cycle means there is less stimulation of the ovaries.
There is also some early research that the combined pill is protective against bowel cancers, although further research is needed into this area to clarify the benefit.
6. The pill will impact your sex drive
Can be true. Most women will experience no change to their sex drive (libido) when they start taking the contraceptive pill. There are however a small number of women who experience a loss of libido. Contraceptive pills work by releasing hormones that stop ovulation.
The oestrogen in your combined birth control affects testosterone levels in your body. This means that there’s less testosterone in your body, and your hormone levels can remain stable instead. Changes in oestrogen levels may also contribute to vaginal dryness, which can affect enjoyment of sex, making it difficult to connect with a partner and cause a loss of libido in women.
Some women will find that removing the anxiety around getting pregnant means they have an increased sex drive.
Smokers and overweight women shouldn't use the pill
False. Your weight should not affect most types of contraception. Smokers are generally advised to take the progestogen-only pill, also known as the mini pill.
7. You should only use the pill for contraception
False. Some women are advised to take the combined contraceptive pill to help treat their acne. Dianette or Clairette are often prescribed for women whose acne is likely to be hormonal.
8. You should take a break from the pill once in a while
False. There is no requirement to have a pill free week. Most combined contraceptives tell you to take a 7 day break but you can choose to shorten or miss this break, and not have a withdrawal bleed. Missing or shortening the break could help you if you get heavy and/or painful bleeding, headaches, or mood swings on contraceptive-free days.
There is no need to take a break from the pill from time to time as the hormones don’t build up. There are no known benefits to your health or fertility from taking a break.
9. All birth control pills do the same thing
False. The combined oral contraceptive pill contains artificial versions of female hormones oestrogen and progesterone, which women produce naturally in their ovaries. These hormones prevent the ovary from releasing an egg each month, meaning an egg cannot be fertilised by sperm. They also thicken the mucus of the neck of the womb so it’s harder for sperm to reach an egg, and they thin the lining of the womb making it harder for an egg to implant and grow.
All POPs also thicken the mucus from the cervix and thin the lining of the womb. POPs which contain desogestrel will stop the ovaries releasing an egg.
The contraceptive pill is a very effective form of contraception, provided you take it correctly. If you have further questions and you're registered with us, send us a message via your Patient Record. Alternatively, we advise you to talk to your GP and read through the information that comes with your medicine so you are informed on what to expect.