Part III: The Common Sex Myths and Misconceptions

This is Part III of a larger resource, The Authoritative Guide to Safer Sex.  

Rumors, urban legends, and patently false information about sexual wellness are rampant. What you hear from friends or learn in an obscure message board may be very far from the truth. Brush up on the most common sex myths and mistakes before you engage in sexual activity. (See Part II: You Need to Be Emotionally Ready.)

    • MYTH: It is possible to catch an STI from a toilet seat.
    • FACT: Sexually transmitted diseases are viral or bacterial in origin and require the exchange of bodily fluids to be passed to a new host. Disease-carrying microbes cannot survive outside the body for long and will die before any accidental transmission occurs. You cannot catch an STI from a toilet seat, dirty sheets, or shared living space with an infected person.
    • MYTH: It is impossible to get pregnant the first time you have sex.
    • FACT: It is entirely possible, a fact to which many unhappy teens may attest. Some statistics report that 20% of pregnancies occur during the first month of sexual activity. Some girls may even become pregnant if they have sex before their first period!
    • MYTH: It is impossible to get pregnant during a period.
    • FACT: It is unlikely, but it is possible. Some women, particularly teenagers who haven’t yet established regular menstrual cycles, have a cycle that allows an overlap between their most fertile days and their periods. This can also happen to older women approaching menopause, resulting in surprise pregnancies.
    • MYTH: I need a prescription for the morning-after pill.
    • FACT:  The morning-after pill, commonly known as Plan B, is available without a prescription to consumers aged 17 and older. It is shelved behind the pharmacy and you must ask for it, but a prescription is unnecessary. Some states do not enforce an age restriction. (See Part V: Understand the Realities of STIs.)
    • MYTH: IUDs are dangerous for teenagers.
    • FACT: Intra­uterine devices, or IUDs, are safe at any age. When this form of birth control was developed in the 1970s, early iterations caused scarring of the uterine wall and frequent infections. The IUDs on the market today are completely safe and effective against pregnancy, though they do not protect against STIs.
    • MYTH: The cervical cancer vaccine is 100% STI protection.
    • FACT: Gardasil or Cervarix shots have become commonplace for young women in their teens. This vaccine discourages the development of cervical cancer by blocking the two viruses that can lead to it. However, the vaccine is effective in only 70% of women to date, and this vaccine does nothing to protect you against the other STIs you risk during unprotected sex.
    • MYTH: Hot tub water kills sperm.
    • FACT: Hot water does not kill sperm, and if you have unprotected sex in a hot tub you can get pregnant. You can also catch an STI. Even if you do use a condom in a hot tub, the excess water exposure can wash away spermicide or cause a condom to slip off. Heat is known to be damaging to condoms, and use in hot tubs may lead to broken-down latex.
    • MYTH: Two condoms are better than one.
    • FACT: The likelihood of a condom breaking is actually higher when two condoms are used. The increased friction between them during use can cause them to rip or tear.
    • MYTH: Oral sex is completely safe.
    • FACT: Something as innocuous as kissing can in fact spread an STI like herpes. Oral sex without the use of a dental dam can put you at risk of other STIs.
    • MYTH: Condoms protect against all STIs.
    • FACT: Unfortunately, condoms do not fully protect against some diseases such as syphilis, AIDS, or genital warts. (See Part IV: Learn the Proper Precautions.) Condoms are very effective at preventing pregnancy, however, and do act as a barrier shield for most STI microorganisms.
    • MYTH: Pulling out prevents pregnancy.
    • FACT: Before a man has an orgasm, he may secrete pre-ejaculate. This substance can carry sperm that can fertilize an egg, resulting in pregnancy. Pre-ejaculate can release sperm even if the male does not have an orgasm.
    • MYTH: Drinking Mountain Dew lowers sperm count.
    • FACT: This is an urban legend. There is nothing in Mountain Dew that affects sperm count.
    • MYTH: Men can use plastic wrap in place of a condom.
    • FACT:  There is no substitute for condoms, which are tested for their fit and protection capacities. Plastic wrap may be used as a dental dam, but it is not an acceptable form of protection during intercourse.
    • MYTH: The Pill is immediately effective.
    • FACT: It can take a full month for the ingredients in the Pill to reach full efficacy in your body. Physicians recommend a second form of birth control for up to 4 weeks after starting the Pill.