When I first started taking birth control, I had no clue what to expect. I knew it would prevent pregnancy, sure, but I’d also heard rumors it might help acne or cause health complications. Nearly 60 percent of women use birth control for “added benefits,” and 14 percent of women use it for reasons that have nothing to do with sex. Of course, I had no idea what any of that meant for me.
Sexual health is crazy important, and whether you’re using it to manage a secondary health condition or to enjoy an active sex life sans pregnancy, birth control is something many women choose to use. So let’s unpack some common myths around birth control.
Myth #1: Birth control will make you fat.
You’ve probably heard at least one person blame birth control for a few extra pounds, but research shows this is usually a perceived side effect—not a real one.
One study compared 49 different trials in which different combinations of contraceptives and placebos were used, but most showed no substantial difference in weight. Even more convincing? They continued to follow participants after they stopped taking contraceptives, but there was no weight change after discontinuing their use.
“There are no studies or scientific evidence that the birth control pill, patch, ring, or intrauterine device make you gain weight,” says Alex Ferro, M.D., a board-certified OB/GYN. “Any slight weight gain is usually attributable to water retention and is temporary. However, there is an association with possible minimal weight gain and the birth control injection.”
Myth #2: Birth control gets rid of acne.
This one’s both true and false, because—in reality—it depends.
Certain kinds of birth control pills, especially those containing drospirenone and norethindrone, can combat acne. However, according to Farro, some can actually do the opposite. The FDA has approved three types of pills for acne treatment—Estrostep, Ortho Tri-Cyclen, and Yaz—and some dermatologists even prescribe oral contraceptives to combat severe acne.
However, every woman is different, and it might take a while to see positive results. If this is a concern for you, definitely bring it up with your doctor—they may be able to switch you to a pill that helps control your acne.
Myth #3: Birth control can massively screw with your sex drive.
“Birth control is usually not associated with a decreased sex drive,” Farro says. “In the vast majority of cases, when a patient is complaining of decreased sex drive, it’s due to multiple other factors, not her birth control method.”
Cue a collective sigh of relief. A 2016 study suggested that women using certain kinds of birth control—the contraceptive ring, the implant, and one pill in particular—were more likely to report a reduced sex drive than copper IUD users. However, the study confirmed most women don’t experience a drop in sex drive regardless of which contraceptive method they’re relying on.
Myth #4: Your birth control will definitely make your period lighter.
This is another one with a degree of truth. While certain forms of birth control may help reduce the length of your period and quantity of your flow, others do not.
One study indicates oral contraceptives can help reduce your period and help manage PMS symptoms (#winning), but it’s important to remember the type of birth control method you’re using matters.
IUDs, for example, can offer a whole host of benefits for women. They’re 99 percent effective and relatively affordable, and hormonal IUDs are known to help reduce periods. However, copper IUDs often increase your monthly flow and can cause painful cramps, which is why they’re often recommended for women with lighter flows.
Myth #5: You have to have your period when on birth control.
Surprise! There’s no danger in skipping your period (if that’s what you’re looking for), says Brian Burton, M.D., a board-certified OB/GYN at The Woman’s Clinic. “If you are on a combined contraceptive or other contraceptives that control your periods, then yes, it is safe to go without a period,” Burton says. But he notes that if you’re not having periods when you’re off birth control, that’s not normal—so if you’re experiencing a period-free life without taking any form of BC, you should see your doctor.
Myth #6: Birth control is dangerous to your health.
As with all medication, it’s important to talk to your doctor about birth control and which option is right for you. However, generally speaking, birth control is a safe and effective form of contraception.
There are some studies that have shown hormonal contraceptives (pretty much everything except copper IUDs and condoms) can increase your risk of depression, and some women—especially those with pre-existing mental health disorders—might be at risk for mood changes.
Just remember every person is different. What works for one person might not work for you, and that’s OK.
“As a general rule, I advise my patients that there is not a one-size-fits-all method of birth control,” Farro says. “Fortunately, we have multiple options and dosages and can generally find the right form of birth control in the vast majority of cases.”
And if you’re worried about recent headlines pointing out that certain forms of birth control might be linked to breast cancer, a new study says otherwise. They reviewed data from over 2,000 women with a family history of breast cancer, but they didn’t find a link between birth control use and increased risk.
Myth #7: Other methods of contraceptives are just as reliable.
There are a lot of ways you can avoid pregnancy, and not all of them involve visiting a doctor. However, that doesn’t mean they’re going to be as safe (and effective) as most birth control options.
If you’re considering going all-natural by tracking your cycle, you might want to think again. The CDC reports that over one year of “typical” use, fertility awareness-based methods have only a 76 percent effectiveness rating. That’s right: 1 out of 4 women will become pregnant using this method. The withdrawal method is only marginally better at 78 percent effectiveness, and condoms clock in at 82 percent effective.
If you’re considering the pill, its effectiveness is around 91 percent, but it’s the IUD that’s the real winner—it’s widely accepted as the most effective birth control method (only 0.2 to 0.8 percent of women have the same chance of becoming pregnant). The copper IUD is also the only nonhormonal birth control method.
Regardless of which birth control method you choose, empower yourself by asking your doctor as many questions as you want—and you can even check out our handy-dandy guide to contraception before making your appointment. Of course, condoms are the only kind of birth control that also protects against STDs, so if you’re not in a monogamous relationship, always wrap it up.
Who knows, maybe they’ll finally release that male contraceptive soon, and we’ll finally get to take a break from being the only ones worrying about BC. In the meantime? Go forth and get busy—safely.
Jandra Sutton is an author, historian, and public speaker. After graduating from Huntington University with a B.A. in history, she went on to receive a master’s degree in modern British history from the University of East Anglia. In her spare time, Sutton enjoys fangirling, running, and anything related to ice cream. Pluto is still a planet in her heart. She lives in Nashville with her husband and their two dogs. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.