Whether you learned the ABCs of sex in health class, on TV, or by word of mouth, most likely you have been exposed to facts and urban legends about sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). STDs can not only be physically embarrassing, but also can become a serious health problem if left untreated. They can cause infertility in women and even death, in the case one becomes infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that can later develop into the acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). About 20 million new cases of reportable STDs occur each year in the U.S., suggesting misconceptions about sex risks may be to blame.
To steer you clear of potentially ruining your sex life, below we have exposed eight common STD myths to keep you and your partner safe and healthy in and outside the bedroom.
8 STD Myths Debunked
Myth #1: You can't get an STD from oral sex.
False: Yes, you can. This myth is uttered by many teens, but it is 100 percent untrue. Unprotected oral sex — “blow jobs” or “going downtown” and whether you do it or it’s done to you, puts you at risk for an STD. The University of California, San Francisco’s, HIV InSite says if the partner is giving oral sex to a man, the risk increases if they have any cuts or scrapes in his or her mouth. These scraps may include small ones caused by brushing or flossing before sex. Giving oral sex to a woman can increase the risk of infection if there is menstrual blood, if the woman has another STD in addition to HIV, or if the person performing oral sex has sores or cuts in his or her mouth.
Myth #2: If he pulls out, the partner won’t get pregnant or an STD.
False: Better use protection. The withdrawal or “pulling out” method does not prevent HIV or other STDs. Most disease-causing microorganisms are not contingent on ejaculation for transmission. This method is less effective at preventing pregnancy compared to condoms, the Pill, or shot. According to Planned Parenthood, the pull out method is much more effective when done correctly. Their latest statistics reveal, out of every 100 women whose partners use withdrawal, four will still become pregnant each year if they always do it correctly.
Myth #3: If you use birth control, you do not need to worry about STDs.
False: Take the pill. Birth control methods such as the pill are very effective at preventing pregnancy, but they do not protect against STDs. Condoms are the only method of protection against both STDs and pregnancy, says the Food and Drug Administration. Using a condom and also a birth control method like the pill will provide maximum protection for both partners.
Myth #4: Sex in a pool or hot tub, or douching after sex will prevent STDs, including HIV, and/or pregnancy.
False: You're still at risk. This classic urban legend has gained popularity under the belief that chlorine is a disinfectant that kills STD-causing bacteria or viruses. Chlorine is not a condom, and it will not kill sperm. If partners desire to have sex in a pool or hot tub, take extra precaution because latex condoms can easily break down in hot water temperatures, says Teen Clinic.
Myth #5: You can only get herpes when your partner has an outbreak that can be seen.
False: Oh so false. Most people have no or few symptoms from a herpes infection. The majority of people with herpes are not aware that they have it, but symptoms such as itching or a burning feeling in the genital or anal area, swollen glands, or vaginal discharge, can last from two to three weeks. They commonly cause infections of the mouth and lips, also known as “fever blisters.”
Myth #6: You can only get an STD from semen.
False: Think again. Although semen and blood can spread STDs, some like herpes and syphilis can be transmitted by skin on skin contact. If a partner has herpes and experiences visible “fever blisters,” the sore can spread when it comes into contact with someone’s skin in areas like the mouth, throat, and cuts or rashes. A partner may become infected even before blisters begin to form.
Myth #7: Lesbians do not need to have safe sex.
False: Everyone does. Women who have sex with other women may rarely get HIV, but the risk increases if a woman has sex with an HIV-positive woman, or injects drugs or has sex with a man who has HIV. According to Womanshealth.gov, this could happen because soft tissues, like those in the mouth, can come into contact with the vaginal fluid or menstrual blood of the woman infected with HIV. Women can spread a number of STDs to one another during oral sex, manual sex, or frottage.
Myth #8: You are over 50 and believe STDs aren’t an issue.
False: Always be safe. Before the AIDS era, many people did not associate sex as an activity that needed protection. This belief contributes to the reasoning behind why older individuals have rising HIV rates, according to the National Institute on Aging. Older women may be at an increased risk for cervical cancer because they could have been infected with human papillomavirus (HPV) for a while, and they might’ve stopped getting screened.