For most of us, birth control is a fact of life. While estimates vary, it’s safe to say nearly every women in this country will be on the pill at some point in her life. The pill (and sterilization) are the most popular forms of birth control—and have been since the early 80s.
With the pill’s popularity come a few misunderstandings, myths and just plain fake facts. If you’re taking birth control, you’ve probably heard rumors and wondered what to believe. Is it safe to vape when you’re on certain birth control? Does birth control stop migraines, or not?
We’re here to set the facts straight. We asked Courtney P. Sherman, doctor of nursing practice at Nurx, to dispel five common birth control myths. Here’s what she told us, with a few edits for length and clarity.
Myth 1: Most birth control methods contain hormones
This is total bunk. Many, many common options—condoms, spermicides, copper IUDs, the sponge and diaphragms are hormone free.
Still, the truth of the matter is lots of birth control options contain at least one hormone. Pills, patches, rings, injections, implants and non-copper IUDs—these all contain at least one hormone. All of the birth control methods Nurx offers have hormones.
But let’s break this down a little further. Some birth control contains two hormones: estrogen and progestin.
Sherman explains, “You might hear your friends talking about ‘low dose’ or ‘low hormone’ options. These pills typically have less estrogen—but the pills are just as a effective as standard dose pills. It’s the combination of hormones that matters, not whether your birth control has a lot of some hormone or not.”
That’s because every one of us is unique. We all respond to birth control differently.
This explains why your provider at Nurx asks you a series of questions about your health. They’re here to help you make the right choice. And they can only help you make the right choice by knowing your medical history, whether you’ve had side effects with previous methods, and other factors like age, weight, blood pressure and whether you smoke or vape.
Myth 2: Vaping is safe when you’re on birth control
No, no, no. Vaping liquid contains nicotine. (And so do patches, gums, lozenges—and cigarettes and cigars, obviously.) If you’re 35 and older, it’s not safe to use nicotine in any form when you’re on birth control containing estrogen. Nicotine use is a big deal!
Why? “It puts you at risk of serious side effects like heart attacks, strokes and blood clots,” explains Sherman.
The safest option is to quit nicotine altogether. If you can’t, be honest with your provider at Nurx about your nicotine use. She’s not here to judge you. But she does want to make sure you stay healthy.
Myth 3: Birth control eliminates migraines
This is one of those things you hear that contain an ounce of truth. Here’s what we mean: If migraines generally hit you when it’s that time of the month—and you’re on hormonal birth control—then yes, birth control might help rid you of migraines.
But—this comes with a big caveat. If your migraines are caused by anything else, birth control won’t help. If fact, if you see auras with your migraines, then the CDC recommends avoiding birth control that contains estrogen altogether. “Safer methods for you include progestin-only or non-hormonal birth control,” explains Sherman. “Nurx follows CDC guidelines, so be sure to tell your Nurx provider about your migraines.”
Myth 4: Lesbians do not need birth control
This myth perpetuates the half-baked idea that birth control is only for preventing pregnancy. As many as 58 percent of American women take birth control for other reasons—and some experts say the true numbers are even higher. Birth control helps control a heavy period and lessen cramps, bleeding, bloating and PMS. Birth control makes your cycle predictable and can clear up acne.
These are all great health benefits. It makes no sense to exclude lesbians—and it’s discriminatory. “Any provider who refuses to offer birth control to lesbians is not a provider who needs to be working with women,” says Sherman. The providers at Nurx are ready, willing and able to find a birth control options for every person born with a uterus.
Myth 5: Hormones are hormones
All hormones are not created equal. Estrogen in your birth control, for example, isn’t the same as estrogen for gender-affirming therapy or menopause. What does this mean? You can’t use your birth control patch, for instance, to manage hot flashes or for gender transitioning.
While it’s true hormone therapy for transgender women contains estrogen, it’s also true many birth control methods contain a mix of estrogen and progestin. And Sherman is quick to note, “Transgender women don’t need progestin. In fact, progestin actually interferes with the estrogen they do need.”
Thinking all hormones are the same is harmful. That’s why transgender women need providers who are knowledgeable and compassionate about transgender care. Rest assured, the providers at Nurx are sensitive to these issues. They’re here to help all women find the care that’s right for them.