(BlackDoctor.org) — The best place to get information about your sexual health is from your doctor, but for whatever reason—convenience, privacy, or anxiety and urgency—you may one day find yourself searching for answers from other unreliable sources for intimate and important questions.
It’s great to learn more about your body and your choices, but explore those search results with caution. A lot of information is chock full of errors, omissions, and outdated advice, and that it’s not always easy to find the truth about common myths believed by many teenagers (and probably many adults as well!).
MYTH: You can catch an STD from a toilet seat
Sexually transmitted diseases or infections can’t live outside the body for a long period of time—especially not on a cold, hard surface like a toilet seat. Plus, they aren’t present in urine, anyway (it’s usually sterile), so the chances of you catching one from whoever used the bathroom before you are slim to none.
What you do need to worry about, however, is what may seem like benign skin-to-skin or mouth-to-mouth contact. Kissing, for example, can spread herpes (and deeper kissing can even spread oral gonorrhea and chlamydia), while skin rubbing together can pass infections such as genital warts, herpes, scabies, and pubic lice.
MYTH: You can’t get pregnant the first time you have sex
It may seem like the odds are in your favor, but there’s no reason to risk it: You are just as likely to get pregnant the first time you have sex as any other. In fact, some statistics say that 20% of people get pregnant within a month of starting sex.
MYTH: You can’t get pregnant during your period
It is unlikely, but still possible—especially if you’re not using a condom or birth control. Some women have long periods that overlap with the beginning of ovulation, which means they can be fertile even though they’re menstruating.
Say you have a short cycle (21 days, for example) and your period lasts a week. If you have sex close to the end of your period, you could become pregnant since sperm can live for up to 72 hours in your reproductive tract.
There’s also the infamous late-in-life pregnancy that can occur during perimenopause, when periods are erratic. Experts say it’s not safe to ditch birth control until you haven’t had a period for a year.
MYTH: Women need a Pap smear when they turn 18
In 2003, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists changed its recommendation for Pap tests, also known as Pap smears; previously, the test was recommended immediately after a woman first has sexual intercourse or at age 18, whichever came first.
Now, Pap tests aren’t recommended until women have been sexually active for about three years, or until they turn 21.
An early Pap test may seem harmless, but the stress of needing a Pap—often thought of as an uncomfortable and invasive procedure—may cause young women to avoid their gynecologist or refrain from asking about birth control. Young women should be able to approach their doctors and discuss these issues without the scrutiny of unnecessary tests.
Why the reason for the change? Most cases of human papillomavirus (HPV) clear up on their own within three years; it’s only the cases that stick around longer—and will be picked up by a later Pap test—that are real causes for concern because they can lead to cervical cancer.
MYTH: The “morning after” pill causes an abortion