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15 Shocking Birth Control Mistakes

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condom with a pin in itA little-known fact about birth control: there are two rates of effectiveness for every contraceptive method. What the public most often hears about is called the “Perfect Use” rate. This is the statistic for how often a form of contraception, such as a condom, succeeds at preventing pregnancy in a clinical setting where it is used perfectly. The more realistic rate, known as “Typical Use,” is an estimate of how successful a birth control method will be when utilized by the average person in real world situations. Visit this page for a breakdown of statistics for perfect and typical use of various birth control methods.

Why is birth control not as effective as scientists say?

All too often, people do not know how to use a contraceptive, or they fall prey to the myths that surround birth control. Below are 15 real life mistakes that drastically reduce the success of contraception and increase the risk of pregnancy. Steer clear of these, and safer sex is yours to enjoy:


Any Plastic Barrier Will Do

As the popularity of the Do It Yourself industry grows, you must refrain from DIY condoms (plastic wrap, shower cap, grocery bag, etc.). Condoms are scientifically designed to fit the shape of the penis, stay in place during intercourse, catch sperm in a reservoir and, ideally, prevent you from having to use your DIY skills to build a baby crib. Stick with what the pros make on this one.

condom in the sinkRinse and Reuse, Right?

Condoms are not like the Ziplocs that your Grandma rinses out and reuses. Even people born during the Depression know that condoms are a one-time deal. After sex, remove the condom and throw it away, even if there is no ejaculate in it.

Expiration Dates are Just for Show

Most of us have tested the expiration date on a gallon of milk, but have you ever made the mistake of drinking truly expired milk? Sour milk’s got nothing on the consequences of an expired condom failure. It’s best to abide by that date.

Condoms Protect Me from Everything, Including the Monster Under the Bed

Male and/or female condoms are an effective preventative measure against many sexually transmitted infections (STI) and against pregnancy. However, some STIs (also called STDs), including Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), cannot be entirely prevented by condoms. The only way to completely avoid STIs is abstinence, although limiting your number of partners reduces your risk.

Better Late Than Never

We won’t argue this old adage in most cases, but it does not hold true in the contraception arena. When people don a condom after intercourse has begun, they are already at risk for STIs and pregnancy. Sperm can be released before the final ejaculation, meaning the moment there is genital contact, a condom is necessary to prevent pregnancy, as well as the transmission of diseases.

Safe Sex is Like Grocery Shopping

No need to double-bag in the bedroom. Putting on two condoms will cause extra friction, making it more likely that both will break. Condoms are designed to be worn one at a time, so don’t go overboard.

Olive Oil: for Cooking or Lube?

While there are many household and bathroom products that could double as lube, you should stick to actual water-based lubricants. Petroleum jelly, lotions, oils and food products don’t interact well with the latex in a condom, causing it to weaken and possibly break.

The Pill

on off switchThe Pill Works Immediately, Like an On/Off Switch

In truth, the Pill works more like an elevator call button. You can press it a hundred times, but it will still take time to get to you. How long it takes the Pill to become effective depends on where you are in your cycle when you begin it. Ask your doctor how long it will take to be effective, and double up on methods until then.

If I Miss Pills, I Can Just Double Up, Triple Up, Quadruple – Wait Can I Take Them All at Once?

Gynecologists say that if you miss a pill, you must take it as soon as you remember and then take the following day’s pill on time. If you don’t notice that you missed one until the next day, take both at once. If you miss more than two pills in a row, use a second form of birth control until you can reach your doctor for advice. If you find yourself missing pills every month, you should consider a method that you don’t have to take as often, such as the Ring or the Shot.

Birth Control Pills are Invincible

Think of the Pill as the Superman of the pharmaceutical industry; it accomplishes powerful things, but some medicines are its “kryptonite.” Antibiotics use, for one, can cause a woman’s hormonal birth control to no longer work. There is also research that indicates consumption of too much grapefruit juice can counteract the hormones in birth control. Before you take any other medicines, ask your doctor how/if they will interact with your birth control, and then use a back-up method if necessary.

The Patch

The Patch will Stick to Anything

Not so much. Make sure you have not recently applied lotion, makeup or another substance to the skin where you intend to stick the Patch. If you have, wash and dry the skin and then apply a patch. Apply the Patch only to the areas indicated in the instructions. Remember: this isn’t a good behavior sticker from your third grade teacher; it’s a medication that contains a powerful dose of hormones, so handle it carefully.

The NuvaRing

Keepin’ it Fresh, Veggie-drawer Fresh

This is not a birth control to chuck into the depths of your purse. The actual expiration date applies to NuvaRing only if it is stored in the refrigerator. While most birth control can be left out, the NuvaRing is effective for about three or four months when stored at room temperature. If you leave the ring anywhere that is warmer than room temperature, consider it useless.

IUD Method

Out of Sight, Out of Mind

While the IUD is one of the most hassle-free methods of birth control – no daily pill, no messy sponge, no patch to stick on – it still requires some attention. The doctor or nurse will teach you how to feel to make sure the threads are still in place. Don’t ignore this simple task, or you could find that your birth control is not…er…where you left it.

Diaphragm, Femcap and Today Sponge

Barrier vs. Hormonal Methods

Diaphragms, Femcap and the Today Sponge are barrier methods of birth control, like condoms, meaning they are used as physical barriers to prevent sperm from reaching the egg. Also like condoms, all of these methods are to be used in the event of sex. They are not meant to provide round-the-clock protection against pregnancy, like a hormonal contraceptive, and thus should not be left in the body all the time. You must remove your diaphragm, cervical cap or sponge six hours after you engage in sexual intercourse.

Pull Out Method

The Gravity Method

If a man fails to fully pull out before any ejaculation occurs, many people believe that the woman can stand up or jump up and down to eradicate the sperm. This behavior is often rewarded with remnants of the ejaculation, called “backflow,” trickling out. These calisthenics may convince people that pregnancy is actually being thwarted. Not so. Once sperm has entered the vagina, there is nothing a woman can do to get all of it out, including standing up, peeing or douching. At this point, the best alternative to be sure that pregnancy is prevented is an emergency contraceptive, commonly called Plan B.

Remember, abstinence is the only 100% effective method of preventing pregnancy, as well as sexually transmitted infections.

Good luck and may your birth control prevail.

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4 Responses to 15 Shocking Birth Control Mistakes

  1. Patty Marinos says:

    The fact that I am giving this to my 16 yr old daughter to read should give you some idea of how fantastic I think this information is! There’s nothing you left out that I can see. This information gives her a good to know about each of the options, and opening the door for her to investigate one of them further if she’s interested in any of them. Excellent work!

  2. admin says:

    Thank you, Patty. We are glad to provide you with information. Please comment on this blog or post a question in the forum if you or your daughter have any questions!

  3. Landon says:

    Not to spread unchecked facts, but a surgeon I am friends with once informed me that sperm lives and thrives within the vagina for more than 5 days, and in some cases up to 8 days. Something to keep in mind when taking the chance of the “pull out” or gravity method.

  4. BCN Editor says:

    Landon, thank you for the helpful info! Your surgeon friend is absolutely right.

    Check out our Pregnancy Myths page for more common misconceptions that people have about pregnancy prevention: http://birthcontrolnews.org/pregnancy-myths/

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