There are things we think we know about sexual health:
- You can’t get pregnant when you’re on your period.
- Women have to worry about infertility more than men.
- HPV is a sexually transmitted infection that only affects women.
But are they true?
Many of us didn’t get comprehensive sex education. What we know is cobbled together from many sources. We’ve never gone through and fact-checked each and every piece of information.
As a result, we may be operating off commonly-believed myths that simply aren’t true.
Sexual health is an incredibly important aspect of every woman’s life. We need to know the facts, and we need to be able to talk about those facts with our intimate partners.
Read on to discover why you can get pregnant days after having sex, why you can’t get an STI from a toilet seat, and other fascinating facts about sexual health.
Great sex should be dirty, but your body isn’t. 😉
You don’t need to do anything special to keep yourself clean “down there.” In fact, your body has its own self-cleaning mechanisms. Read on to discover what they are.
Myth: Douching is necessary to keep the vagina clean.
In the United States, almost 1 in 5 women aged 15 to 44 use a douche. However, most doctors recommend against it. Douching can change the necessary balance of vaginal flora (bacteria that live in the vagina) and natural acidity in a healthy vagina.
A healthy vagina actually maintains both good and harmful bacteria. This balance of bacteria creates an acidic environment within the vagina that helps protect it from infections or irritations. If you don’t feel clean down there, the best way to clean yourself is with simple warm water.
Myth: Urinating after intercourse will not help prevent infections.
Actually, it’s recommended to empty your bladder after having sexual intercourse.
Bacteria can get into your urethra as you have sex, increasing your risk of infections like UTIs (urinary tract infections). Going to the bathroom right after sex helps flush bacteria out before they travel to your bladder.
The Human Body
Biology class taught you about the reproductive system, but did it teach you that sperm can live for 5 days in the body? Read on to discover fun facts that every woman (and man) needs to know.
Myth: Infertility is much more common among women.
Infertility is not just a female problem.
In the United States, 10 to 15% of couples are infertile, and the cause lies almost as often with the man as with the woman.
A man’s fertility can be affected by:
- Abnormal sperm production or function
- Problems with the delivery of sperm
- Overexposure to certain environmental factors
- Damage related to cancer and its treatment
A woman’s fertility can be affected by:
- Ovulation disorders
- Uterine or cervical abnormalities
- Fallopian tube damage or blockage
- Primary ovarian insufficiency (early menopause)
- Pelvic adhesions
- Damage related to cancer and its treatment
Myth: Men reach their sexual peak at a younger age than women.
Many people believe that men and women have different “sexual peaks,” or ages where they can perform at their “sexual best.”
This belief is bolstered by the fact that men’s testosterone levels peak on average around age 19, while women’s estrogen levels peak in their mid-to-late 20s.
However, sexual desire, performance, and frequency constantly fluctuate. They are related to many factors, not just age.
Myth: Sperm can only live for a short time.
After ejaculation, sperm can live in the female reproductive tract for up to 5 days, even if you thoroughly wash yourself afterwards.
This is important to know if you’re using the rhythm method to avoid pregnancy. If you have unprotected sex a few days before you ovulate or before you’re in your “fertility window,” there’s still a chance you could get pregnant.
Sexually Transmitted Infections
STIs, or sexually transmitted infections, are infections that spread from person to person during sex (vaginal, oral, or anal) or—in some cases—close skin-to-skin contact.
It’s not always obvious when you’ve contracted an STI, because some people are asymptomatic carriers (they don’t experience noticeable symptoms).
Here are some STI facts that you may not have learned in sex ed.
Myth: You can’t get an STI from oral or anal sex.
You can get an STI from any kind of sex, or by close intimate contact with a partner. Always use protection, like a latex condom, during any type of sexual activity.
Myth: STIs can only be transmitted when symptoms are present.
Even if your partner “looks healthy,” he may be a carrier of an STI.
In many cases, an STI can exist in the body without visible symptoms and be spread to other partners.
Always get tested, and make sure your partner gets tested, too.
Myth: Men can’t get HPV.
HPV is common among both men and women. About 80% of people will get an HPV infection at some point in their lives.
In most cases, HPV goes away on its own. If it doesn’t, however, it can cause harm and even lead to cancer if left untreated.
Most people with HPV don’t know they’re infected and never develop symptoms. Cancer can take years to develop after a person gets HPV. So get tested.
Myth: You don’t need to worry about STIs if you’re monogamous.
As long as you are sexually active, contracting an STI is a possibility, even if you only have one sexual partner.
In an ideal world, you’d both get tested for STIs before having sex for the first time. These days, it’s more common to get tested before embarking on a sexually exclusive relationship. Always make sure you both have a clean bill of health before having unprotected sex.
Myth: You can get an STI from sitting on a toilet seat.
Did your mother teach you that toilet seats were hotbeds of germs?
Although no one would ever claim that public toilets are the cleanest of places, using a public toilet is not likely to give you an STI.
STIs are transmitted through sexual intercourse, close intimate contact, or the exchange of bodily fluids. They can only live on surfaces for a short amount of time.
An STI would most likely die on the surface of the toilet seat before you make contact with it, so it’s unlikely that you could get infected from using a public toilet, unless you had an open sore or wound touching the seat.
Myth: You can’t get HIV from getting a tattoo.
Today, tattoo parlors are often safe, sterile spaces to get beautiful body art.
But pick your tattoo parlor wisely.
Though less common than other routes of transmission, it is possible to contract HIV or other blood-borne infections like hepatitis B from getting a tattoo or body piercing if the instruments used for tattooing or piercing are not sterile or properly disinfected between clients.
Some states require that all tattoo artists undergo OSHA Blood Borne Pathogen training to reduce the risk of exposure.
If you are getting a tattoo or piercing, ask your tattoo artist if they have OSHA Blood Borne Pathogen training and what kind of procedures they follow to prevent the spread of HIV and other blood-borne infections.
You can also ask for proof that the artist performing the procedure is licensed and that the license is up to date.
We’re taught about the importance of safe sex and how to avoid pregnancy, but how much of what we’re taught is wrong? Here are two myths that need to be busted.
Myth: You can’t get pregnant on your period.
While conception is most likely when intercourse occurs a few days before or during ovulation, it is still possible to get pregnant during your period.
Sperm can live in the female body for up to 5 days after sex, so in some cases sperm can fertilize an egg a few days after it has been released.
This is more likely to happen in women with shorter period cycles. If you have questions about your fertility, you might want to take a simple fertility test to check key hormones or consult your physician.
Myth: The withdrawal method is effective in preventing pregnancy.
Even if you use the withdrawal or “pull out” method, you can still get pregnant.
A man’s pre-ejaculatory fluid contains sperm cells, making conception possible even if he withdraws in plenty of time. So always use protection.
If you’re going to have sex, keep it safe.
Here are four facts you need to know.
Myth: Doubling condoms means double protection.
It’s recommended to never use two condoms at once.
Using two condoms can actually offer less protection than using just one. Incorrect use of condoms, such as stacking one on top of another can cause friction, weakening the material and increasing the chance of the condom breaking.
Myth: Getting the HPV shot means you’re safe from cervical cancer.
HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infections, with 14 million new cases each year in the United States.
Many healthcare providers recommend that sexually active individuals be vaccinated and regularly tested for HPV.
But does the vaccine protect you completely?
No. The current HPV vaccine only protects against 9 common types of HPV, which are linked to cases of genital warts, cervical cancer, throat cancer, and anal cancer.
There are over 150 types of HPV, with at least 12 high-risk strains, leaving a small chance that you could contract one of the other kinds.
Myth: Condoms are only for men.
Condoms are made for women as well as men, and are just as effective and safe as the traditional male condom. The female condom can be inserted hours before intercourse and, if used correctly, can be virtually unnoticeable.
While condoms may look different for men and women, they work the same way: providing a protective barrier to block semen from entering the vagina. Both types of condoms can be used to lower the risk of STIs during sexual intercourse.
Myth: You can’t get an STI if you use a condom.
While condoms are 98% effective in preventing STIs, it’s still possible for sexually active individuals to get an STI any time they have sex, even if a condom is used. That’s why it’s a good idea to regularly test for STIs, even if you make sure to always use condoms.
Did you know all of these facts about sexual health?
Which fact surprised you the most?
If you feel comfortable, share these facts with your sexual partner. Here are some tips on how to start a conversation about sex.