Many people are terribly uninformed about sex. At the extremes are people like the girl I overheard in high school, telling her friend that she didn’t understand how she’d gotten pregnant for the second time at age sixteen, when she’d been using “foam”–the foam from a can of cola! She went on to say that she’d gotten pregnant the first time because she not only had no contraception but also didn’t know that the activity her boyfriend called “screwing” was the same thing as this “sexual intercourse” that she’d heard was the cause of pregnancy.
Most people manage to pick up more information than that. Still, in college I met many highly intelligent people who believed some inaccurate things about sex. Here are a few examples:
- MYTH: A condom alone is very good protection against pregnancy.
FACT: Condoms have a 14-15% failure rate. That means that if seven couples use condoms as their only method of pregnancy prevention for one year, one couple will have an unplanned pregnancy. Even the condoms with a spermicidal coating have not been proven significantly more effective. Using a condom and another method of contraception is a much safer plan.
- MYTH: Using condoms eliminates the need to make certain that you and your partner are disease-free.
FACT: Condoms can break, slip off, or have small holes. Some sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), such as herpes and genital warts, can cause contagious sores in areas not covered by a condom. Not all STDs have noticeable symptoms. Be honest with your partner about your sexual past before you have sex. If it’s too late for that, talk about it now.
- MYTH: A negative Pap smear means that a woman has no STDs.
FACT: The Pap smear is a test for cervical cancer. Although cervical cancer can be caused by the same virus that causes genital warts, the Pap smear is testing for cancer, not the virus or any other STD. Many gynecologists do not include STD testing in a routine exam, and symptoms aren’t always obvious even to a doctor. Don’t assume that no news is good news; ask!
- MYTH: Everyone gets cold sores–those little blisters on and around the lips–so they’re really no big deal.
FACT: Those blisters are caused by the herpes simplex virus. Not everyone has it, and those of us who don’t would rather not get it, thank you. Even if your partner already has oral herpes, it’s still a big deal. The virus can be spread from your partner’s mouth to your genitals (or vice versa) during oral sex and can cause genital herpes, which is usually much more painful.
It’s important to get the facts about sex to avoid harming yourself and others. Even if you remain celibate all your life, you need to take care of your reproductive organs to prevent cancer and other health problems.