How to Avoid Pregnancy (If You Don't Want to Get Pregnant)
The subject of how to avoid pregnancy has many myths, old wives tales, and falsehoods attached to it, so in this article, my aim is to dispel those myths and sort out fact from fiction.
After all, if you don't want to get pregnant and spend the next 18 years caring for someone else, then why take needless risks or listen to age-old stories from back when people didn't really understand how pregnancy happened?
Being pregnant and either having a baby or a termination is life-changing in a VERY BIG WAY. If your not ready for that kind of change yet, then learning how to avoid pregnancy is a good lesson to learn.
Myths and Old Wives Tales
This is the most common way that couples try to avoid pregnancy. It's probably true that you are somewhat less likely to become pregnant if you do this but there is still a high likelihood of pregnancy.
It is not a reliable method of contraception or birth control because in some men sperm is released before full ejaculation (1). As one reader points out, it's the strongest sperm that are released before ejaculation—the ones with the highest chance of reaching the ovum.
It only takes one sperm to reach the egg, so why risk it? This technique is fine if you and your partner are in a long-term, stable relationship and neither of you mind becoming parents at the moment. But if you really do not want a baby, it's no protection at all. Many, many women have fallen pregnant this way.
You Cannot Get Pregnant the First Time
This is another complete myth. Once you start your periods your body is able to become pregnant even if it is your first time having sex. I know one woman personally, who did become pregnant on her first time and became a single mother at 16. You could call it bad luck, but luck is not something you want to dice with when it comes to pregnancy. The consequences are too big to just trust the roll of the dice.
Douching is when you attempt to wash the sperm out of your vagina after sex. This doesn't work and has the potential to damage you (2). The way that our bodies work is that the man ejaculates right at the entrance of the cervix (the entrance to your womb) and the strongest sperm can get beyond the cervix and start swimming happily to your egg within two minutes. There are on average around 3 million sperm released with each ejaculation, so a great many of them will be in your womb long before you can wash them out.
Douching can also increase the likelihood of conception because it actually pushes more sperm into your cervix.
Avoiding Ovulation (The Rhythm Method or Fertility Awareness Method)
This is all about avoiding the time that your body releases eggs from your ovaries, which normally happens in the middle of your cycle. So, if you have a 28-day menstrual cycle—day 1 being the first day of your period—then you can expect to ovulate at around day 14.
The are several problems with this method. Firstly, due to the fact that it's easy to make mistakes, the failure rate is between 5-25%. Those are very problematic percentages if you're trying to avoid pregnancy.
The other main issue with this method is that our bodies are very, very clever. They are geared up to make babies and will do whatever it takes to make sure that we continue the species. It is their biological function, and they take their jobs very seriously.
- Our fertility window (and consequently the days when we are infertile) can be extremely unpredictable, even when a woman's cycle is regular (3). This may be one way that our bodies try to maximize the chances of pregnancy.
- Some studies have suggested that male pheromones in sweat, saliva, and sperm can trigger early ovulation in women (4).
- Another study showed a protein in seminal plasma can trigger ovulation (5). This is a common phenomenon in other mammals so it's not a huge leap to suppose it may help us humans conceive more often.
- Sperm can live for up to 7 days, though are most motile and able to fertilize an egg in the first five. So if you have a 5 day period, then have sex on day 6 - on day 13 (just as you a likely to be ovulating) and by which time Mr. Spermy will be right in your fallopian tube waiting—the sperm will still be alive and be eagerly trying to find your egg.
Sex During Your Period
You can get pregnant from having unprotected sex during your period for all the reasons above. You never know when your ovum will be released, you don't know if there are sperm still alive inside you and your body is doing it's utmost to get pregnant.
Jumping Up and Down After Sex
This may sound silly but I have heard people say that this is what they do to avoid getting pregnant. Sperm can swim against the force of gravity pretty easily, so jumping up and down is not going to make the slightest bit of difference. Once those sperm are inside your uterus (remember, they can get there in less than a couple of minutes), they will be hunting out your egg like little undercover agents, and a bit of jumping up and down is not going to stop them.
How to Really Avoid Pregnancy
No Sex Full Stop
This is an option that many young women are taking nowadays and is a wise and admirable option, but it's not for everyone. Young people are especially keen to find out about their sexuality and it's a normal and natural impulse to want to explore this new world of desire and passion and to find out what our grown-up bodies can do. It's got to be said though that no sex = no pregnancy and it is the most surefire way of not becoming pregnant.
No Penetrative Sex
If you want to explore your sexuality with your partner, then one way is to make sure you do not have penetrative sex. There are many other ways that you can please each other, such as hand stimulation and oral sex that can be just as satisfying and pleasurable. You just need to be especially careful that sperm does not go anywhere near the vagina. If you get sperm on your hands do not then touch or allow your partner to touch your vagina. The risk of pregnancy would be slim but it is still there. Remember that it only takes one sperm to make a baby.
My own recommendation for anyone who wants to have sex and does not want to get pregnant would be to see a health professional about getting yourself some reliable contraception. But do remember that no birth control method comes with a 100% no pregnancy guarantee. Every method is subject to failure, especially when they are not used properly.
If you are taking the pill you must take it every single day. If you forget just one, you will not be protected for that whole month. You will need to use an alternative method for the rest of that month. If you are on antibiotics your pill may not work and so again, you will need to use another form of contraception on top of that, such as condoms. Don't listen to boys who tell you they don't like condoms—ask them if they would like to be a daddy instead. From my own experience, men who say they don't like condoms and would rather take a risk are not worth having. They obviously have no respect for you and no thought to the consequences of what they're doing.
Avoid Alcohol and Drugs
This last one is really important, especially for young people. That's because most teenagers who become pregnant have had unprotected sex when they have drunk too much or have been using drugs. Both drastically inhibit your ability to think properly and make wise decisions. Having unprotected sex may seem ok when you are out of it and caught up in the moment, but I can guarantee you it will not feel ok the next morning nor in the coming weeks when you are waiting anxiously for your next period.
If You Do Make a Mistake
If you do make an error of judgement, have unprotected sex, or your contraception fails, then make sure you get yourself Plan B as soon as you can afterward. It's most effective when taken within 24 hours of unprotected sex. It can be taken later, but the longer you leave it the less effective it is at preventing pregnancy and if the fertilized egg has already implanted it will not be effective at all.
Enjoy your youth! Have fun! And look after yourself!
I hope you've learned something about the way fertility and conception works so that you can keep yourself safe and really avoid pregnancy.
1. Sperm Content of Pre-Ejaculatory Fluid. Pubmed. Stephen R. Killick, Christine Leary,James Trussell,and Katherine A. Guthrie. 5 Feb 2013.
2. Vaginal Douche: Douching. MedicineNet. Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD.
3. The Timing of the “Fertile Window” in the Menstrual Cycle: Day Specific Estimates from a Prospective Study. Pubmed. Allen J Wilcox, David Dunson and Donna Day Baird. 30 Aug 2000
4. The Real Reason Why the-Rhythm Method Doesnt Work. Psychology Today. Jena Pincott. 18 Oct 2011.
5. Semen May Trigger Ovulation. LiveScience.com. Stephanie Pappas. 20 Aug 2012
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
Questions & Answers
© 2009 Susana Smith