This article was written by Julie Hambleton, co-founder of The Taste Archives.
Nearly everyone feels awkward talking about their sexual health. It’s one of those “taboo” topics that whenever we have issues with our reproductive organs, areas, or experience any kind of sexual dysfunction, we feel embarrassed, try to hide it, and talk about them with as few people as possible. Due to this lack of open communication surrounding our sexual health, many myths have been created and spread that really just aren’t true. The article aims to clear up all of those myths and misunderstandings so you have all the information you need about your sexual health.
8 Myths About Sexually Transmitted Infections
There are several myths surrounding STIs, including:
You can’t get an STI if you only have sex once.
You can’t get STIs from oral or anal sex.
You can only get STIs if you sleep around.
You can get an STI from a toilet seat.
You can’t get an STI if you have sex in a pool or hot tub because the chlorine will kill it.
Wearing two condoms is better and will provide more protection than one.
Once you’ve gotten one STI, you can’t get it again.
Antibiotics can kill an STI.
The truth is, when it comes to STIs, everyone is susceptible. Whether it’s your first time having sex or your hundredth, you are at risk. STIs can spread through any body fluid, and the skin inside your rectum and mouth are much weaker than that of the vagina, which allows infections to be spread easily. This means you are just as likely to catch an STI from oral or anal sex as you are from regular vaginal intercourse.
You cannot, however, catch an STI off of a toilet seat or any other surface, as the organisms that cause infection can’t survive long when not in an outside environment. That being said, when it comes to hot tubs and pools, the temperature of the water and chemicals used in pools and hot tubs do nothing to kill both sperm or STIs, therefore condoms should still be used.
Condoms are effective at protecting against STIs, however they are designed to be used one at a time. Using two will not only provide no more protection than one, but may actually increase your risk of catching an STI because it increases the chances of breakage and leakage.
Certain STIs, such as Herpes or HIV, are lifelong infections that at this time cannot be cured. Other non-permanent STIs can be caught a second time, and a second infection could cause further damage to the reproductive tract. You should always talk to a prospective sexual partner before having sex about their history, as you can spread STIs even when you are not showing any symptoms. If someone hasn’t been tested in a long time or regularly, you should practice extreme caution.
Lastly, though antibiotics are extremely effective against bacterial STIs, they do not work against viral STIs. There are antiviral medications you can take to help manage symptoms, but they do not cure the infection. (1)
9 Myths About HIV
Though we don’t still know everything we need to about HIV and AIDS, we do know enough to dispel the misconceptions surrounding the disease that are not only untrue, they are dangerous and could cause people to be exposed to and contract HIV. Below are some of the most common myths:
You can get HIV by being around and touching people with HIV
Mosquitoes spread HIV
You can’t get HIV from oral sex
You can’t get HIV if you’re heterosexual
You can tell if your partner has HIV
You don’t have to worry about catching HIV because there are drugs that will keep you healthy
If you’re HIV positive you can never have sex again and your life is over.
You can’t spread HIV if you’re getting treated
If you and your partner are both HIV positive you don’t need to wear condoms.
HIV is a sexually transmitted disease and is not spread through sweat, tears, saliva, touch, or urine. This means that kissing, shaking hands, hugging, or any non-sexually related action will not spread the disease. Though HIV can be spread through blood, it can’t be spread via mosquitoes. You can get HIV from any type of sex, including oral, no matter if you are heterosexual or not. Many people can have HIV and no show symptoms, so always ensure that your partner has been tested and you take the appropriate precautions. (2)
Drugs do improve the health of people with HIV and can help them to live longer, fuller lives. That being said, these drugs are expensive and have difficult side effects, and there is no cure. Even when you are being treated and not showing symptoms, you can still spread the virus. If you and your partner are both HIV positive, you should still use protection during sex to avoid developing a drug-resistant strain. (2)
4 Myths About Pregnancy
Pregnancy is something that everyone has an opinion on, but many of their opinions and ideas are not based on science or actual truths. Below are some of the most common myths:
You can’t get pregnant the first time you have sex
You can’t get pregnant while you’re on your period
Day 14 of your cycle is when you’re most likely to become pregnant
You can only conceive on the days you ovulate each month
While there are certain times of the month in which you are more fertile than others, and certainly the more times you have unprotected sex the more likely you are to get pregnant, you can still get pregnant on any given day and whether you’ve had sex one time or fifty times. (3)
You are most likely to become pregnant the day before you ovulate and the day that you ovulate, which typically occurs 12 to 16 days before your next period starts. If you have a long cycle, this could happen after the 14th day of your cycle, and if you have a short cycle, this could happen before. You can track your fertility using your body temperature (your temperature will be higher when you are ovulating) or using a fertility tracking app. Though fertility is usually lowest during menstruation, there is still a risk of becoming pregnant at this time, as well as any other time during your cycle. (3)
8 Myths About Herpes
Herpes is a reasonably misunderstood disease, and most people are too embarrassed to talk about it or ask questions for fear of being judged or ostracized. Unfortunately, this has lead to several myths surrounding the virus that are not only untrue, but are also harmful and can lead to more people contracting it. These are:
Only people who sleep around can get herpes
Herpes isn’t that common, therefore your risk is relatively low
Mouth cold sores are not the same as genital herpes
Your partner will know if they have herpes without having to be tested by a doctor
You can’t have children if you have herpes
Herpes causes cervical cancer
People with herpes can’t donate blood
If you have genital herpes, you can’t have oral sex
Herpes is extremely common, with up to 80% of the population having type one (cold sores, on the mouth), and upwards of 20% of the population having type two (of the genitals). Like all other STIs, the number of people you have sex with or whether or not you are in a monogamous relationship doesn’t impact whether or not you can get herpes; anyone can have it.
One of the reasons why herpes is so common is because many people can have it without showing any symptoms at all. Both cold sores (herpes simplex type 1) and genital herpes (simplex type 2) are still herpes, and many cases of type two are caused by type one. Though herpes is not always infectious, it can occasionally shed from the skin even when there are no visible signs of an outbreak.
People with herpes can still lead a very normal, healthy sex life, and they can still have children. Herpes does not affect fertility and it is extremely rare that the virus is passed along to the baby. You should, however, inform your doctor if either yourself or your partner has genital herpes when you are trying to conceive or are pregnant. (4) In order to reduce the risk of passing on the virus to your partner, use condoms and avoid contact during flare-ups.
Herpes also does not cause cancer, nor does it affect your blood; it is passed on through skin to skin contact only. People with herpes can still give blood regularly. You can’t transmit oral herpes to your genitals, either through touch or oral sex, as your body has developed antibodies against the virus to prevent this.(4)
As soon as herpes leaves human skin cells, it dies, so it also can’t be passed along via any other surface. People with genital herpes are not a danger to society and should not be treated as such. (4)
6 Myths About HPV
With HPV, like other STIs, misinformation is harmful both for the person who has HPV and puts those without it at a greater risk of contracting it. Common misconceptions about HPV include:
Only people who have casual sex with a variety of partners are at risk for HPV
Genital warts cause cancer
If you partner gets HPV, it means they slept with someone else
If you have HPV, you will have recurrent outbreaks
Genital warts are not contagious once you’ve been treated
If you use condoms, you are not at risk
While it is true that the more people you have sex with, the greater risk you have of being exposed to the HPV virus, this doesn’t mean that you are not at risk if you haven’t or don’t have multiple partners. HPV can lie latent and not show any symptoms for weeks, months, years, even someone’s entire life. If you are in a committed relationship, you or your partner could have HPV and not know it. If one of you then contracts it from the other, this does not mean that one of you has been unfaithful. (5)
In most cases, genital warts are benign and do not cause cervical cancer. While you should always keep open communication with your doctor if you have genital warts, you should not lay awake at night worrying about getting cancer. If you have a genital warts breakout once, it doesn’t necessarily mean you will have another. Whether or not you have a recurrence depends on the state of your immune system.
While there is currently no cure for HPV, it does not mean that you will have outbreaks or show symptoms all the time, and your immune system may clear out the virus on its own over time. Treatment or removal of genital warts also does not ensure that you are no longer contagious, you could still pass the virus on to a partner. (5)
Condoms are highly effective at preventing the spread of HPV and other STIs, however they are not full-proof, as they do not cover the entire genital area. Be sure that you know your partner has been tested and is clear of the disease before you have sex. (5)
3 Myths About Syphilis
Syphilis is an STI that not many people talk or know about, but we all should. Due to the lack of education and awareness of syphilis, many misconceptions have come about surrounding the virus. Common myths about syphilis are:
You will know if you have syphilis
If you have syphilis, there is nothing you can do about it
Once you’ve had syphilis, you can never get it again
Syphilis is a serious STI that if left untreated, can cause serious damage to the nerves, bones, skin, eyes, and brain. If a woman is pregnant, she can pass syphilis along to her child, so all women wishing to conceive or who are pregnant should be tested for the virus right away. Syphilis often shows no symptoms for anywhere from 10 to 90 days, after that it will first appear as marks called chancres, and then develop further into open sores and rashes.
Thankfully, syphilis is treatable with penicillin and penicillin combinations, which are especially important for those who already have HIV and are more likely to experience serious complications from the disease. If you’ve had syphilis once, you can still get it again, so practicing safe sex and maintaining an open communication with your partner is critical for avoiding contracting the virus. (6, 7)
The Bottom Line
No matter if you are in a committed relationship or not, you should be concerned and informed about your sexual health. Talking about sexual health and spreading awareness about the myths that surround it is important for both the protection of those suffering from STIs or who are pregnant, as well as those who don’t have them but are at risk.
Help us spread awareness and education about sexual health so these harmful myths are dispelled once and for all by sharing this article with your friends and family.
Watson, S. (n.d.). Teens and STDs: Common Myths. Retrieved October 05, 2017, from https://teens.webmd.com/features/teens-and-stds-common-myths#1
10 Common Myths About HIV and AIDS. (n.d.). Retrieved October 05, 2017, from https://www.webmd.com/hiv-aids/top-10-myths-misconceptions-about-hiv-aids#2
Myths about getting pregnant. (2017, September 07). Retrieved October 05, 2017, from http://au.clearblue.com/pregnant/myths-about-getting-pregnant
Herpes myths vs facts. (n.d.). Retrieved October 05, 2017, from https://www.herpes.org.nz/patient-info/myths-vs-facts/
HPV Myths & Facts -. (n.d.). Retrieved October 05, 2017, from http://www.ashasexualhealth.org/stdsstis/hpv/hpv-myths-facts/
Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs). (2017, February 13). Retrieved October 05, 2017, from https://www.cdc.gov/std/syphilis/stdfact-syphilis-detailed.htm
Myths about syphilis. (2016, February 29). Retrieved October 05, 2017, from http://www.starobserver.com.au/life-style/healthy-living/myths-about-syphilis/45148