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Yoxly Awesome Contributors

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Medically Reviewed by:

Dr Danae Maragouthakis

Fertility and sexual health have always been tricky and taboo subjects, full of misinformation and myths. Some myths do have some factual basis, but others are simply nonsense! At Yoxly, we aim to demystify sexual health and improve access to reliable, educational information.

This article aims to clear up some common myths that revolve around how to get pregnant, how to avoid getting pregnant, and what might affect your fertility.

Let’s dive into the topic and dissect some common myths about fertility.

Myth #1 Use of Birth Control Pills Makes You Infertile

As the name suggests, birth control pills are designed to prevent pregnancy when taken consistently and correctly. But what about when you stop taking them? 

The Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Health (FSRH) advises that there is no delay in return to fertility after taking the combined oral contraceptive pill or the progestogen-only pill

A study published in the Journal of Contraceptive and Reproductive Medicine concluded that contraceptive pills do not affect future fertility at all, regardless of how long they are used.

The bottom line is that once you come off the pill, you can become pregnant right away. 

Myth #2 You Can’t Get Pregnant if Your Partner Doesn’t Ejaculate Inside You!

This is absolutely false! You are still at risk of getting pregnant even if your partner does not ejaculate inside you. 

This is because sperm are presentin pre-ejaculatory secretions (precum), which, when it ends up in the vagina, can cause pregnancy. A study published in the British Fertility Society Journal found mobile sperm in the precum samples of 37% of their 27 male participants.

Therefore, the withdrawal method (coitus interruptus) is not reliable for preventing pregnancy. A study published in BMC Women’s Health reveals that nearly 20% of couples who use the withdrawal method become pregnant in a year.

Therefore, effective contraception (such as pills, condoms or intrauterine devices) should be used if you do not want to become pregnant.

Myth #3 Having an STI Will Cause Infertility.

Whilst sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are known to be associated with infertility, this is largely only true for infections that do not get treated for a long time and cause scarring or damage to the reproductive organs.

The most common bacterial STI in the UK is chlamydia, which is readily transmitted via unprotected sex with an infected individual. The NHS and NICE recommend that all sexually active young adults get tested for chlamydia at least once a year — more frequently if you have multiple sexual partners. Chlamydia is easily treated with antibiotics, and having had chlamydia does not mean you will be infertile. However, regularly testing for chlamydia, and other STIs (like gonorrhoea and syphilis), is important.

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Myth #4 Douching/Washing/Showering After Sex Stops You Getting Pregnant.

Douching or bathing after sex does not stop pregnancy from occurring. Sperm which have entered the vagina can rapidly pass through the cervix. Bathing or douching cannot remove sperm from inside the cervix. 

Douching has also been linked to an increased risk of vaginal infections, such as bacterial vaginosis (BV) and pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), and is also linked to a higher chance of ectopic pregnancy–so it is not recommended under any circumstances.

Myth #5 You Can’t Do Anything About Your Fertility!

In many cases, if you are struggling to become pregnant, some simple lifestyle changes can help! These include stopping smoking, improving your diet, and maintaining a healthy weight. 

Stress has also been linked to infertility, and measures to combat stress, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), can improve your chances of pregnancy. 

A wide range of assisted reproductive technologies (ART) are available to help overcome various fertility issues. These include medications, surgery, or techniques such as in-vitro fertilisation (IVF). Around 85–90% of couples successfully conceive after getting the right fertility treatment.

IVF techniques, in particular, are becoming more common and much more successful! According to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), the average pregnancy rate using fresh cycle IVF increased from 10% in 1991 to 29% in 2021. And since 1991, 1.3 million IVF procedures have been performed in the UK, resulting in the birth of 390,000 babies!

Myth #6 Avoiding Sex After Your Period Means You Can’t Get Pregnant!

Natural family planning, or fertility awareness methods (FAM), involve meticulously tracking the menstrual cycle to determine when you are least likely to fall pregnant. This is not generally considered a reliable method for avoiding pregnancy, as up to 1 in 4 women become pregnant while using this method! 

The NHS explains that there is no “safe time” in any month when you can have unprotected sex and guarantee you won’t get pregnant. This is because the timing of ovulation can be unpredictable, even when your periods are regular. Ovulation typically occurs between 12 and 16 days before your next period; however, it can happen earlier or later than expected, particularly if your cycle is irregular.

In addition, sperm can stay alive in the female reproductive tract for around 5 days. So, even if you ovulate days after having unprotected sex, there’s a chance that the sperm can still be alive, and pregnancy can occur.

Therefore, to avoid unintended pregnancy, it is always advised to use an effective method of contraception (such as condoms or hormonal birth control) when having sex during any time of the month.

Myth #7 Women Over 40/45/50 Can’t Get Pregnant!

You can still get pregnant naturally, even in your 40s or 50s, provided that you have not reached menopause. Menopause is the permanent cessation of periods due to low hormone levels and typically occurs between ages 45–55 (average 51). 

Interestingly, there is some evidence that women who experience early puberty may have delayed menopause and, therefore, have more reproductive years.

The risk of pregnancy complications increases with advanced maternal age. A study published in Obstetrics & Gynaecology found that women in their late 40s and 50s had an increased risk of preterm delivery, low birth weight, and hospitalisation.

The FSRH recommends contraception can be stopped at age 55, when natural loss of fertility can be assumed for most women, even if they are still having periods. 

Myth #8 Having an Abortion Reduces Fertility.

Abortion is the intentional medical or surgical termination of pregnancy. In the UK, 98% of abortions are performed before 20 weeks of gestation, with the majority (90%) being carried out in the first trimester.

Simply having an abortion does not affect future fertility. About 90% of women who have had an abortion will go on to have a normal pregnancy and healthy baby. However, having had an abortion does appear to be associated with an increased risk of preterm birth in future pregnancies.

Whilst you can become pregnant quickly after having an abortion, there is evidence that this is associated with an increased risk of pregnancy-related complications.

In some cases, complications of termination, such as an infection, may affect future fertility. Testing for STIs is usually offered at the time of termination, and antibiotics may be prescribed for women at an increased risk of infection. 

Myth #9 Regular Periods Mean You Are Fertile.

The average length of a woman’s menstrual cycle is 28 days, with the usual interval between periods ranging from 23 to 35 days.

Although a regular period is associated with fertility, it is not always the case! Underlying issues which may affect fertility, such as ovulatory disorders, infections, or endometriosis, can be present alongside a regular period. Furthermore, factors like increased age, smoking, psychological stress, or unhealthy body weight can also impact fertility without impacting periods.

If you’re trying to become pregnant and have not conceived after a year of regular, unprotected, vaginal intercourse (2–3 times a week), you should seek advice from a healthcare professional. You should consider seeking advice sooner if you have any underlying health problems, or if you’re a woman over the age of 36.

Myth #10 Irregular Periods Mean You Can’t Get Pregnant!

If your menstrual cycle is less than 21 days or more than 35 days, or if it varies by more than 4 days each month, you may have an irregular cycle. 

Women with irregular periods can and do successfully conceive. A 2018 study showed that most participants with irregular periods were ovulating, and could therefore get pregnant. 

If your periods are irregular, the NHS recommends having vaginal, unprotected intercourse (sex without contraception) every 2–3 days throughout your cycle, to increase the odds of getting pregnant.

Take Home Message

You’ve probably heard plenty of myths and rumours about sexual health and fertility–some of which have a factual basis, but many of which are simply false! If you have any worries about your sexual health or fertility, seek advice from a trusted healthcare professional.

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Yoxly's Awesome Contributors (YACs) are a diverse group of individuals who are passionate about public health, and committed to furthering our mission. Yoxly provides a platform where a variety of sexual health topics (some more awkward than others!) can be explored, in an informative and non-judgmental way. If you'd like to become one of Yoxly's Awesome Contributors, contact us!