Myths related to sexual and reproductive health of women

Updated on May 26, 2022 07:44 AM IST

Most myths surrounding the sexual and reproductive health of women are based on superstition, lack of scientific knowledge, stigma and gender-based discrimination. Doctors debunk some of these common myths to help normalise women’s right to reproductive health.

Myths related to sexual and reproductive health of women (Twitter/EkawaliGupta)
Myths related to sexual and reproductive health of women (Twitter/EkawaliGupta)
ByZarafshan Shiraz, Delhi

The subject of sexual and reproductive health (SRH) carries a lot of stigma and taboo in India and these taboos surrounding SRH have a negative influence on girls' and women's emotional well-being, mindset, lifestyle and most importantly, physical health. The difficulty of tackling socio-cultural taboos and beliefs is exacerbated by their lack of information and understanding about puberty, menstruation, and overall reproductive health.

When women are unable to conceive, misinformed narratives such as that of witches inhabiting their bodies and sinful acts in the past take centre-stage. The disproportionate blame placed on them is one of the largest myths that exist till date, although infertility can be traced to underlying ailments in both men and women hence, a deliberate strategy to fighting these ills in our society is required.

Most myths surrounding the sexual and reproductive health of women are based on superstition, lack of scientific knowledge, stigma and gender-based discrimination. It is important to debunk the prevailing myths because otherwise the problem may be treated for a while but it would continue to recur with increasing severity.

In an interview with HT Lifestyle, Dr Kshitiz Murdia, CEO and Co-Founder of Indira IVF, debunked a few myths associated with sexual and reproductive health and fertility -

Myth 1: Having unprotected intercourse during periods is safe and will not lead to pregnancy

Fact: Even though the likelihood may decrease, it’s still possible to get pregnant if one has unprotected sex during their periods. Sex right before and during ovulation (when an egg is released) is the most likely time for a woman to become pregnant. Ovulation occurs around 14 days before period begins, in the midst of the menstrual cycle. While women cannot conceive while on their period, sperm may survive for up to five days in the female reproductive system. This indicates that a small percentage of women have a possibility of becoming pregnant during their period due to unprotected intercourse. If one has a shorter menstrual cycle, they more likely to become pregnant from intercourse during menstruation.

Myth 2: Women with PCOS cannot get pregnant and losing weight can ‘cure’ PCOS

Fact: Due to irregular ovulation and hormonal abnormalities, women with PCOS may have difficulty conceiving, but with the right medicines and assistance from a fertility professional, it is feasible. Women with PCOS can benefit from a variety of reproductive treatments, drugs, and even Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ART) such as IVF. While being fit and living a healthy lifestyle is always recommended, there is currently no treatment for PCOS. Obesity can exacerbate hormonal imbalances in the body, so it's important to eat well and exercise often. These lifestyle adjustments will increase insulin use in the body, allowing hormone levels to be better controlled. Although losing weight may help with ovulation, it is not a cure for PCOS.

Myth 3: Infertility is only a women’s issue

Fact: Infertility can be related to underlying disorders in both sexes, according to medical evidence. It is related to underlying disorders in females 40% of the time, males 40% of the time, and problems with both partners 20% of the time in couples who are unable to conceive. Infertility is a growing problem in today's population, and calling it a one sex issue is both inaccurate and offensive.

Adding to the list, Dr. Riddhi Desai, Associate Consultant, Gynaecology and Obstetrics, PD Hinduja Hospital and Medical Research Centre in Khar, shared -

Myth: Women shed impure blood during periods.

Fact: Menstruation is a healthy and natural process by which the reproductive system prepares a woman’s body for pregnancy. When you think about it, periods are vital since humanity needs the ovarian and menstrual cycles for its propagation and survival. Period blood is not dirty and it contains no toxins or impurities. It actually consists tissue from the lining of the uterus along with the same blood circulating in the body.

Myth: Birth control pills can cause cancer

Fact: More than 200 million women worldwide use oral contraceptive pills. They are safe with not scientific link to causation of cancer. Quite on the contrary, they help reduce the risk of certain cancers in women such as ovarian and uterine cancer. It has been shown that the longer a woman uses the pill, the lower her risk of these cancers.

Myth: Long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARC) cause menstrual problems

Fact: LARCs include intrauterine devices (IUCD), hormonal injections and implants. The IUCDs work locally on the uterine lining and can cause different menstrual changes. The hormone-releasing devices as also injectables and implants make the periods lighter or even stop completely. It is perfectly normal and even beneficial to not to bleed every month when on these and women experiencing heavy periods actually welcome this change. For women who prefer to have their regular periods there are the copper devices though it may make the periods heavier. Talk to your doctor to make an informed choice depending on your preference.

In order to help normalise women’s right to reproductive health, Dr Nozer Sheriar, Consultant - Gynaecology and Obstetrics, helped bust some myths that include - 

Myth: HPV is uncommon, and it’s unlikely I’ll be infected, so there’s no need to get the vaccine

Fact: Genital HPV infection is the most common sexually transmitted infection. It is believed that most women and men will be infected with at least one type of HPV in their lifetime. It is now accepted that certain high-risk HPV strains are the cause for cervical cancer. We now have vaccines that provide nearly 80% protection against the commonest high risk HPV types. These HPV vaccines are safe, do not cause any serious health issues and a best administered early to girls and even boys during adolescence.

Myth: Abortions are dangerous and lead to infertility

Fact: While illegal abortions performed in an unsafe environment by unqualified people are dangerous, abortions done in a safe environment and performed by trained and qualified medical professionals are one of the safest medical procedures, with a risk of complications less than 0.05%. In fact, over 90% of abortions are performed in the first trimester and the highly effective medical method of taking pills for abortion now accounts for over 80% of all abortions. There is absolutely no link between abortion and infertility and a woman can get pregnant immediately after an abortion so the use of effective contraception must be started at the earliest.

Myth: Midlife hormone replacement therapy (MHT) causes cancer.

Fact: MHT is proven to be the most effective treatment for menopausal symptoms like hot flashes and night sweats, which can have a significant impact on your daily life. Besides this it has a protective effect on heart, bones and mental health after menopause. The misconception that MHT leads to cancer is based on older, flawed studies which have since been refuted. Although it’s true that receiving more hormones than your body requires could raise the risk of certain types of breast and uterine cancers, balanced MHT itself does not increase cancer risk and can be safely taken under the supervision of your gynaecologist.

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