Five myths about contraception and pregnancy laid bare


Condom_Five myths about contraception and pregnancy laid bare / Credit: iStock / LemonTreeImages

Credit: iStock / LemonTreeImages

Sex and pregnancy continue to be taboo subjects around the world as a special report in Index on Censorship magazine shows. From using toothpaste as emergency contraception to not receiving proper treatment during childbirth, fictional beliefs around sex education and reproductive health, combined with a lack of resources, are leading to sexually transmitted diseases, unwanted pregnancies and problems or death during pregnancy.

Toothpaste isn’t just for cleaning teeth, it can also prevent pregnancy

In Ecuador’s Amazonian region, health workers have reported instances of women using toothpaste after sex to prevent pregnancy. A woman in Mexico, who believed contraception was immoral, thought she’d successfully avoided pregnancies when she had green vaginal discharge — a sign of infection. Latin America and the Caribbean are the only regions in the world where pregnancies are rising among girls ages 15 and under due to ineffective use of contraception and lack of education.

Just touching a man’s hand can lead to pregnancy

In North Korea, a country where information is restricted by the government, topics such sex and reproduction are off-limits in schools, and myths such as touching a man’s hand can lead to pregnancy so prevalent, that STIs and unwanted pregnancies are major problems. Condoms and other forms of contraception are unknown, even among adults. Because the signs of pregnancy aren’t talked about, many women won’t know they’re pregnant until they start to show, leading to a rise in illegal and unsafe abortions. But, as Jieun Baek writes in the latest Index on Censorship magazine, the situation may be improving.

Only “weak” and “lazy” women have Caesarean sections

Nigeria has the highest rate of maternal deaths in sub-Saharan Africa, and sentiments like this contribute to societal pressure for women not to have C-sections. Even yelling or shouting during delivery may be viewed as a sign of personal failure. Many women who have C-sections still tell people they had a vaginal delivery, and the stigma against is so strong that some may attempt or be pressured into a vaginal delivery at the cost of their or their babies’ lives. According to Unicef, Nigeria has the second highest global maternal mortality rate, behind only India, a country with more than five times Nigeria’s population.

If someone experiences pain during childbirth, it’s their fault

Obstetric abuse in Russia has become almost commonplace, with often only three to four midwives and four doctors to care for 30 to 40 women. Doctors and obstetricians carry out procedures like inducing labour without asking for permission or informing the mother. And if the patient is in pain? The response may be: “How are you planning on delivering the baby if you’re already in pain?” The systemic issue of a lack of resources in hospitals has become a health endemic for women in Russia.

If you don’t have a condom, chicken skin or cling film will work just fine

According to a 2009 survey in the UK questioning 1,000 women aged 18-50, one in five said they had heard of these items being used. Misinformation such as this may be the cause behind Britain’s high rate of teenage pregnancy. Based on 2016 data, this number is at an all-time low for the country, with a rate of 18.9 conceptions per thousand women aged 15 to 17, but Britain still has the highest teenage pregnancy rate in western Europe.

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The winter 2018 issue of Index on Censorship magazine explores taboos surrounding birth, marriage and death. What are we afraid to talk about?

With: Liwaa Yazji, Karoline Kan, Jieun Baek

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