8 More Myths About Birth Control and STIs

There are far more than seven, as I found.

#8: Douches have some legitimate uses.

Douches were invented to clean up vaginas and were marketed as contraceptives. We now know that vaginas clean themselves just fine and that douching doesn’t prevent pregnancy. The only remaining legitimate use for douches is for the word itself — as an insult, its namesake is such such harmful, unnecessary product.

#7: Nonoxyl-9 protects against HIV infection.

Nonoxyl-9 is an ingredient found in some spermicides and lubricants. For a while, it was thought to be a wonder substance that only prevented pregnancy, but also helped to prevent the transmission of HIV and other STIs. The opposite turned out to be true: N-9 is a detergent that irritates the delicate mucus membranes of anuses and vaginas and actually makes transmission more likely. It also doesn’t prevent pregnancy. Oops.

#6: While straight people can contract it, HIV is still a bigger problem in the gay male community.

Myths about “bug-chasers” notwithstanding, American men who have sex with men are likely the most aware community when it comes to HIV risk. It shows in gay porn, where condom use is standard; in the world of straight porn, condoms are not really common. In the United States, women (especially minority women) represent the fastest-growing group in terms of new HIV infections. Worldwide, women comprise half of all people living with HIV and the vast majority of them contract it from heterosexual intercourse.

#5: There is a minuscule chance of contracting HIV through oral-oral contact due to the risk presented by open sores.

The one study that allegedly proved this is kind of funny, because the person listed the person from whom she contracted HIV as a sex partner, not just someone she kissed. The HIV transmission between them may have occurred any number of ways, from a condom slippage to blood on a shared razor or toothbrush. While theoretically possible, then, there has never been a documented case of someone who is HIV negative merely deep kissing an HIV positive person and contracting HIV as a result.

#4: The Pill “regulates” your period.

The bleeding you get when you stop taking hormone pills is not a period, it is bleeding caused by the hormonal changes from the cessation of pill-taking. As the Pill halts ovulation, you’re stopping the bodily process that necessitates a period in the first place.

#3: The 98% failure rate on condoms means that 2% of condoms will fail.

This is clarification of a demystification from my prior piece. A 2% failure rate on condoms means that of 100 couples who use condoms as birth control, 2 will get pregnant within a year.

#2: If you get HPV, it can cause genital warts and cancer.

The key here is the word “and.” There are over 40 strains of HPV. That is why Gardasil, while definitely helpful, cannot protect against all strains of HPV — there are simply too many. The ones that cause warts are distinct from the ones that can lead to cervical cancer; however, you could be infected with different strains that have different effects, including one or more that could cause cancer and one or more that could cause warts.

#1: HSV-1 is oral herpes, while HSV-2 is genital, and the latter is worse.

Herpes wasn’t considered an STI until relatively recently, with the distinctions between the two types accompanying its stigmatization. They are two strains of the same virus and either can infect either mouths or genitals. Furthermore, HSV-1 is actually more potentially harmful to the infected person. Neither is generally deadly, however. Another fun fact: HSV can infect mucus membranes other than mouths and genitals, such as anuses. Play safe, kids.

Vintage condoms image via.

8 More Myths About Birth Control and STIs

23 thoughts on “8 More Myths About Birth Control and STIs

  1. 1

    On #3, Thanks for the clarification.  The "in a year" bit generally gets lost when people cite the 2%.  Also, from your previous post on the subject, that 2% failure rate is not due to the condoms themselves failing, but almost entirely due to the people neglecting to use them every single time, if I understand correctly.

    1. 1.1

      Quoting the failure rate "per year" involves some assumptions about the couple's, uh, quality of life.  I wish it were possible to state a "per use" reliability rate R, defined as follows:  The probability that heterosexual intercourse between two randomly chosen healthy adults at some randomly chosen time is X, and using this method will reduce that probability to X*(1-R).
      The effectiveness of condoms in preventing the spread of STI's could be defined the same way.

  2. 2

    Is there a better source for the HSV-1/HSV-2 distinction than a website for a company promoting dubious herpes treatments? (L-Lysine hasn't performed well in clinical trials.)

  3. Mym

    I was involved in a discussion once over whether 'douche' was appropriate as an insult, or whether that use arose from 'vaginas are icky!' Our conclusion was that a douche is a tool of the patriarchy, and thus *perfect* as an insult.

  4. 4

    Ermm… Gardasil (note correct spelling) prevents four strains of HPV – the two most likely to cause cancer, and the two that cause the most cases of genital warts.
    You can be infected – simultaneously or at different times – by several different strains of HPV. There may be some cross-protection from immunity; but the virus lives in very superficial cells, and doesn't generate much of an immune response, so natural infection may not even prevent reinfection… YoOu can, therefore, get both genital warts and cervical cancer. 

  5. 5

    On #2 you are assuming an infection with only one strain of HPV.  I cannot find any reason why a person cannot be infected with multiple strains of HPV, and I have seen references to records of multiple infection.  While ONE strain won't cause both warts and cancer, there is no reason why someone couldn't be unlucky enough to get both a wart-causing strain and a cancer-risk strain as well.

    1. 5.1

      Um, did you not read the whole thing?

      however, you could be infected with different strains that have different effects, including one or more that could cause cancer and one or more that could cause warts.

    1. 6.1

      The reason I didn't do so is because they are all myths and it seems redudant to write "False" under things that I've deemed myths and debunked from the get-go.

  6. 7

    I have actually encountered people online who think that if a woman takes BC to "regulate her cycles", then she can still get pregnant.  They think that magically shining a special intent at the pills makes the drug work differently so that it doesn't affect fertility.  One person even claimed that infertile women can take the pill to regulate their cycles enough to help them get pregnant with the reverse of the rhythm method.  There isn't enough facepalm in all the world to deal with that. 
    Incidentally, all of these people identified as Catholic, although I don't take it as representative of Catholics in general.  But I guess since birth control is taboo in that community, a lot of women (and teen girls) claim to take it to regulate their cycles so there are a few doofuses in each church that don't know how to read between the lines and just assume it doesn't actually work as contraception in those cases.

  7. 8

    This is a great list! I do think, however, there might be an error on number 6. You write, "In the United States, women (especially minority women) represent the majority of new HIV infections." However, the first article you linked to indicates that in 2005, women made up 27% of new AIDS diagnoses. The article also says, despite the increasing rates in women, "men continue to represent the majority of new HIV and AIDS cases in the U.S." The second link you reference says that "black women represent 61 percent of the new HIV cases among all women." They represent 61% of new cases among women, but they do not represent the "majority of new HIV infections" in the total population. As a gay man with positive friends, I think it's very important that my community doesn't let its guard down. HIV is still a problem for the gay male community in the U.S. That's not to say that we're the only ones at risk, of course, but as of 2006, men who have sex with men still accounted for "more than half (53%) of all new HIV infections in the United States" although we make up a small percentage of the population. http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/topics/msm/index.htm  

  8. 9

    Good list! I wanted to add that herpes can infect more than just the mouth or genitals. Those are two common and well known spots, but it can Be transmitted and then recur anywhere. I know someone who gets it on a buttock (from sexual contact), someone who gets outbreaks on her nose (most likely from birth with vertical transmission), and don't forget about  <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herpetic_whitlow">herpetic whitlow<a>.

  9. 11

    "A 2% failure rate on condoms means that of 100 couples who use condoms as birth control, 2 will get pregnant within a year."
    should include "with perfect use", i.e.:
    – wearing the right size condom
    – checking the condom is still on during sex
    – replacing condom immidiately after ejaculation
    – replacing a torn condom
    otherwise it's much lower.

  10. 12

    I'm unsure if #4. I was an athletic teen with strong, heavy, irregular periods.  At 16 my doctor suggested going on the pill to regulate them, hope to make them shorter and less painful.  They did become regular and less painful, but took awhile before they were shorter.  And, to catgirl above, I was catholic (no longer).  This was over 2 yrs before I started having sex.  Last year I went off the pill to try and get pregnant and after 3 mo off the periods became irregular (making it hard to conceive; with my previous pregnancy I got pregnant in the first 3 mo off while period was still regular).  I almost considered going back on the pill to get regular again, so when I went off I could try to get pregnant in my 1st 3 mo off (which I hadn't done the 2nd time).  But, I ended up getting pregnant, so I didn't need to try.  Anyway, I know it's anecdotal, but in my experience the pill did regulate my period and reduce the pain associated with it.

    1. 12.1

      I think the issue here is a difference between the lay definition of a "period" as periodic vaginal bleeding, and a technical discussion of withdrawal bleeding (as occurs on oral contraceptives) versus physiologic menstruation.

  11. 13

    Actually, a medicated douche (iodine and water) can clear up a mild case of bacteriosis. I had a pharmacist recommend it for…a friend, yeah, a friend. 

  12. 14

    One point of fact – HSV-1 and HSV-2 can be fatal, but fatalities are typically only observed among newborns. As a NICU nurse, I've lost patients to herpetic encephalitis or herpetic infections that attack the liver and other organs. While these cases are typically contracted from genital contact during vaginal birth, the infants can also contract HSV from adults or kids who have open, weeping cold sores. In my NICU, we weren't allowed to enter the building if we had an active cold sore or herpetic lesion for that very reason.

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