One of the weirdest things I think about this time of year is the time a few years ago when I was talking to my middle-school teacher mother who had, over the course of the previous year, spoken to me several times about her shock at how much sexually activity was going on between her 6th-8th grade students. She was talking about her students again but this time she was shocked to find that a number of them still believed in Santa Claus. Now, I’m not going to lie, I mined this for some comedic gold (“Okay, I’ll go down on you but if I end up on the ‘Naughty List’ for this I’ll be so mad!”) but it really does highlight a huge fundamental flaw in our (and by “our” I mean “America’s”) attitude toward children and sex ed. These kids are engaging in sexual activities while still in a very, young, naive and vulnerable place, a place where they still thought it was plausible that an obese man and some reindeer magically delivered toys to the entire world every December 24th. So, what else might they believe? What they need the most is education, information and guidance but, as we live in the world of abstinence-only education that says sex is something kids should be shielded from they are left to draw their own conclusions, with some frightening consequences.
I’ve rounded up 10 sex myths that I think really illustrate why we need to be teaching kids how this stuff works. These range from things I heard growing up, to things my mom’s students say now, to things that are making the internet rounds. Almost half of these relate to how one can or cannot get pregnant. Now, I know there is a ton kids need to be learning about but as the country with a teen pregnancy rate that is the “highest in developed world” this seems like something we want to get on addressing. Check it out:
“I can’t get pregnant the first time I have sex.”
Nope, every single time can get you pregnant. Particularly cruel as teenagers are extra-fertile.
“Condoms can be reused”/”Guys can use plastic wrap if they don’t have a condom.”
Ew. Just, no. Condoms are a “one and done” situation and plastic wrap will not protect you (and will probably get lost somewhere, again, ew) I will pause and say that in the case of cunnilingus/analingus non-porous (not the microwaveable kind) plastic wrap can be used as a barrier.
“If I wash my vagina soon after intercourse, I won’t get pregnant.”
I’ve heard this with everything from regular soap and water to Diet Coke. It would be great if this were true – cheapest birth control ev-er! But no, vaginas don’t work like this:
“Genitals are the dirtiest parts of the body and should never be touched”
First of, there’s an obvious hygiene problem that can arise here. But, what of folks who are taught their genitals shouldn’t be touched who then try to engage in healthy satisfying sex lives? I was reminded of the story of Samira, a newlywed who was treated for vaginismus after being told while growing up that her vagina should never be touched. Genitals are a part of your body! they are there to be touch by you and (with consent) by others.
“Drinking Mountain Dew will prevent pregnancy.”
I knew a lot of guys in high school who believed this and I mean, in that most girls probably don’t want to sleep with the dude drinking Mountain Dew, sure. But I suspect that’s not what they mean. Also, folks let’s just keep all of the soft drinks out of the sexual health conversation, shall we?
“Condoms have little holes in them so you can still get diseases, why bother?”
Here we find another abstinence-only education gem that tends to backfire. I have heard this one used to try to scare kids out of sex “See! Condoms don’t actually protect you!!” but what happens instead is “If they don’t work, let’s go bareback!” Condoms aren’t porous. They just aren’t. It is worth noting, though, that lambskin condoms fit into an interesting grey area where they do protect from pregnancy but not from disease.
“Anal or oral don’t count/are totally safe because you can’t get pregnant”
This one is rampant especially in the abstinence-only-purity-above-all crowds and it kills me. First of all, there’s the whole “what ‘counts’ as sex?” question which is a whole other issue. More importantly to this conversation there is the fact that STIs are transmitted through both oral and, particularly, anal sex.
“Only gay men enjoy anal play”/ “All gay men enjoy anal play”
This sometimes gets translated to “if a man enjoys anal stimulation he must be gay”. Now, interestingly men rarely seem to have these hang ups in terms of women being anally penetrated. It’s important to remember that generalizations are never helpful. Not all gay men engage in anal play, not all the people who engage in anal play are gay men (I started a Venn diagram but realized there are endless combinations here) Also, “sexual activity” and “sexual orientation” are different. No activity can “make” someone gay if they aren’t.
“Masturbation causes blindness/hair growth/ physical disabilities etc”
This one is just sad. Born out of the desire to keep kids from masturbating (which is sad enough to begin with ) this does nothing but leave people afraid of and disconnected from their bodies. There is a great/horrible story about this kind of thing that Megan Andelloux tells in this Sex Nerd Sandra podcast: “Orgasms For Everybody“.
And because we haven’t even scratched the surface on these: “I won’t get pregnant if: I jump up and down after, we have sex in a hot tub, if we don’t have oral sex, because that’s how the sperm gets in the stomach (I wish I was making this one up), if she has her period, if we’ve already done it twice that day” etc, etc…
Okay, no bueno. If schools may not be doing the teaching but there are resources out there to help parents and kids. Here are some of my favorite places/people online:
What do we think folks? Any resources you love? Any crazy things you believed about sex? Let’s hear it!