With all the options available, coupled with rampant myths and misinformation, deciding which method of birth control is best for you might feel daunting. Sarah Hutto, MD, an obstetrician and gynecologist with University of Minnesota Physicians (M Physicians), says the best way to cut through the confusion is to have a conversation with a trusted provider who will take into account your preferences and medical history. But she says there are some myths that can be swiftly put to rest with accurate, evidence-based information.
Get answers to your questions:
- Does hormonal contraception cause cancer?
- Will I gain weight?
- What about mental health issues?
- Does birth control affect my fertility?
- Does contraception cause hormone imbalances?
- Is it unhealthy to not have a period?
- Is there any reason you might advise someone not to use hormonal birth control?
- If I can’t or don’t want to use hormones, are there options for me?
- What should I consider when choosing a method of birth control?
Does hormonal contraception cause cancer?
Dr. Hutto: A lot of patients are scared they’ll get cancer if they take hormones. While, with birth control pills specifically, there have been studies that show there might be a small increase in breast cancer risk, there is actually evidence that shows you could have a decrease in ovarian cancer and endometrial cancer using hormonal contraception. It’s important to have accurate data.
Will I gain weight?
Dr: Hutto: If you look at studies, the only contraception that has evidence of weight gain is the depo-provera injection. Otherwise, other contraceptives have no evidence of weight gain. A lot of people start using birth control around the time they’re going through a lot of other changes in life. It all seems to happen at the same time, but it’s not necessarily the birth control or the hormones themselves causing weight gain.
What about mental health issues?
Dr. Hutto: There have not been studies that have shown birth control to impact mental health, but it’s so important to talk about those side effects if you’re noticing changes and there’s nothing else in your life that’s changed to explain them.
Does birth control affect my fertility?
Dr. Hutto: It does not have any impact on fertility. There are multiple studies comparing people who have never used birth control and those who have, showing that their ability to get pregnant is no different. I think the reason we’re seeing so many issues with fertility is because people are delaying when they’re trying to have kids more than they used to. And, they happen to be doing that by using birth control. Unfortunately, birth control is being blamed, but that’s unlikely the reason they’re not conceiving.
Does contraception cause hormone imbalances?
Dr. Hutto: Birth control does not cause hormonal imbalance. What it’s doing is altering your body’s natural production of hormones, or the communication between your brain and ovaries to prevent you from ovulating. But it’s not causing hormonal imbalances. Hormonal imbalances can happen because of other medical conditions, and it’s very important to seek medical care to figure out if you have a condition leading to an imbalance.
Is it unhealthy to not have a period?
Dr. Hutto: No. Please delay your menses if you choose to! There’s nothing wrong with not having a menstrual cycle. It does not cause your body any additional stress or concern.
Is there any reason you might advise someone not to use hormonal birth control?
Dr. Hutto: Absolutely. Some people have risk factors that predispose them to have severe adverse events with taking hormones, like a blood clotting history, cardiovascular history, or cancer history. In those cases, hormones may not be a good option. That’s why it’s important to have conversations with your doctor so they know your risks.
If I can’t or don’t want to use hormones, are there options for me?
Dr. Hutto: Yes, there are very effective non-hormonal methods of contraception. A great example is the copper IUD if you want something low maintenance, long-acting and reversible. Condoms, if you use them perfectly, are 98% effective. With typical use, they’re 82% effective. They’re also a great way to prevent STIs, so I encourage people to use them regardless. Other non-hormonal options are diaphragms and spermicide.
What should I consider when choosing a method of birth control?
Dr. Hutto: Know yourself and what you’re looking for. Some people are scared to have an implantable device. Some know they’re not reliable to take a pill every day. It’s going to be different for every person. Be honest with yourself! There are so many different forms out there; understand the benefits of risks of each. Taking into account how long each form lasts for and what your fertility goals are long term is also really important.