Common Misuses of Birth Control Methods

Birth control is a big deal; it is not something you want to rely on the Internet for information about. In case you would like to familiarize yourself with some of the birth control methods and their effectiveness before consulting a doctor (something you absolutely should do), here is a summary. There are a wide variety of different birth control methods to choose from, and while each one has its pros and cons, the main thing you are looking for is how effective each one is, so before we get into any specific details, let’s have a look at the rates of failure of some of the more popular birth control methods.

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The following are the rates of failure, assuming perfect use, for the types of contraceptives listed:

Barrier methods:

  1. Contraceptive sponge, 9%
  2. Diaphragm, cervical cap, and cervical shield, 6-9%
  3. Female condom, 5%
  4. Male condom. 2%

Hormonal methods:

  1. Combined pill (aka “the pill”), 0.3%
  2. Progestin only pill (aka the “mini pill”), 0.3%
  3. The patch, 0.3%
  4. Shot or injection, 0.3%
  5. Vaginal ring, 0.3%

So, the percentages listed above represents the chance of failure, or in other words, the chances that you will get pregnant despite the use of birth control. For example, even if you use a traditional condom each time you have sex, there is still a 2% chance each time that you could get pregnant anyway, and that is assuming you use the condom perfectly. That is the catch: all of the percentages above assume that you have used theses birth control methods perfectly. Accordingly, here are the rates of failure for these birth control methods in the case of “typical use“:

Barrier methods:

  1. Contraceptive sponge, 16%
  2. Diaphragm, cervical cap, and cervical shield, 15-16%
  3. Female condom, 21%
  4. Male condom. 15%

Hormonal methods:

  1. Combined pill (aka “the pill”), 8%
  2. Progestin only pill (aka the “mini pill”), 8%
  3. The patch, 8%
  4. Shot or injection, 3%
  5. Vaginal ring, 8%

So, as we can see, the way that these birth control methods are typically used represent, for each and every one of them, a much higher risk of impregnation. For example, whereas with the traditional male condom, there is a 2% chance of getting pregnant if it is used perfectly, the way it is typically used involves a 15% chance of getting pregnant – a very significant difference. Since the differences between the failure rates (or in other words, the impregnation rates) of each birth control method are so significantly higher in their typical use than in their perfect use, this begs the question: how are these methods of birth control being misused in their typical use?

Common Misuses of Barrier Methods

1.) Contraceptive sponge:

“The sponge” is not, like a condom, meant to be used strictly during sex. According to, the sponge can be inserted up to several hours prior to having sex for protection against pregnancy, and should be left in at least 6 hours after having sex (but no more than 30). So, if you are not leaving your sponge in for at least 6 hours after intercourse, that means that the chances of getting pregnant are going to go up.

2.) Diaphragm:

In order for your diaphragm, to work properly, it has to fit well (you’re going to need to see a doctor to make sure of this). Remember to use a spermicide with it, or it will not be as effective. It is important that your diaphragm covers your cervix; you should consult a doctor regarding the proper method of inserting your diaphragm. Again, you should leave your diaphragm in for at least 6 hours after having sex. Check your diaphragm regularly for holes (you can do this by filling it with water). Also, you should replace your diaphragm every 1 or 2 years.

3.) The female condom:

Typical misuses of the female condom are: not using enough lubricant; using it in conjunction with a male condom; accidentally not inserting the penis into the female condom (so that it slips past, to the side of it); not removing it carefully (to prevent any of the sperm from spilling).

4.) The male condom:

Common misuses of the male condom include: not leaving space in the tip; not removing the air from the tip, putting it on backwards accidentally, then flipping the same condom around and using it the right way (you have to throw it out if this happens); not holding the base of the condom during withdrawal; unrolling the condom before putting it on; putting the condom on only part way through intercourse; reusing a condom.

Common Misuses of Hormonal Methods

1.) The pill:

Common misuses of the pill include: missing a pill; taking pills out of sequence; running out of pills (in other words, stopping or taking a break from the pills prior to getting a refill); not taking your pill at the same time every day.

2.) The mini pill:

Same as above.

3.) The patch:

Common misuses include: applying the patch at the wrong time (it must be applied on the first day of your menstrual cycle or the first Sunday following it); missing your patch change day (which occurs one week after your applied your patch); placing the patch on dry, or irritated skin; placing the patch on skin that has been treated with moisturizer or some sort of cosmetic.

4.) The shot:

As there is little one has to do in this case besides scheduling an injection, there is not much room for error or misuse, unless you wait too long before getting your next shot (one shot typically protects against pregnancy for 3 months).

5.) Vaginal ring:

Although the vaginal ring is inserted into the vagina, it is not a barrier method – in fact, it works very much like the pill, by releasing estrogen and progestin hormones into the body. Common misuses include: not inserting it within 5 days of the beginning of your period; not waiting the 7 days it takes for the vaginal ring to take effect before having sex; not removing the vaginal ring after 3 weeks; not replacing the removed vaginal ring after 7 days.

Remember, this is only a brief overview of some of the more common errors or misuses of birth control methods – it is not an exhaustive list, and should not be relied on completely. Keep in mind that each product, even within a single type of birth control, can have it’s own specific instructions for use – so make sure you follow the instructions on or inside the package of the specific product you are using. Another thing you should keep in mind, is that all of the information above has been retrieved from the Internet, and should be taken with a grain of salt. For something as important as birth control, you really cannot rely on internet sources, because you can never be sure who is writing what they are writing and why; consulting a doctor (a real life one, not a web one) is something that you absolutely should do to lean how to best use your birth control method of choice.

Another thing that must be kept in mind, is that this article has been focusing strictly on the prevention of pregnancy, and not protection form STDs. Just because one method of birth control is effective against pregnancy, this does not mean that it will protect you from STDs. This is another issue entirely, and must of course be researched as well. My advice is, again, not to rely on Internet source, but to consult a doctor.

To finish things off, here is a list of a few other common misconceptions regarding the prevention of pregnancy:

  1. Douching after intercourse is not a good idea; if anything, it will spread semen farther into the vagina rather than cleaning it out.
  2. It is not true that you cannot get pregnant the first time you have sex.
  3. It is not true that women cannot get pregnant while menstruating.
  4. Having sex in a hot tub does nothing to prevent pregnancy (and there is a risk of vaginal infection involved as well).
  5. Impregnation is impervious to gravity. Having intercourse with the woman on top will not prevent sperm from reaching the uterus.
  6. Urinating after sex will not wash the sperm away, will not prevent pregnancy (it is a good idea to prevent urinary tract infections, however).
  7. Toothpaste cannot be used as a contraceptive (I don’t know how this would even work, but apparently it is a thing).

Some of these apparently common misconceptions about birth control are quite ridiculous (personally I suspect some of them have come about from men trying to trick women into having sex with them without a condom), but just in case you didn’t already know, watch out for these homemade birth control methods – they do not work. And once again, I cannot stress enough, do not rely on the Internet for information about proper birth control methods – please consult a doctor.

Rates of failure source Wikipedia

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