It’s not surprising that so many myths circulate about sexual health. It’s one of the most awkward things to talk about with parents and doctors—the two people who you usually trust to give you reliable info. As long as people think talking about sex and sexual health is “taboo,” myths about sexual health will continue to thrive.
HealthiNation asked ob/gyns about the most common sexual health myths they hear—and the ones that make them cringe the most. It’s time to put these sexual health myths to bed (wink).
MYTH: Contraception leads to infertility.
Some women actually avoid the most effective types of birth control because they fear it will lead to infertility. You may have even heard well-intentioned people advise *not* to use contraception like IUDs until *after* they’ve had a baby, “just in case” it causes infertility.
News alert: It doesn’t.
Birth control only prevents pregnancy while you are actively using it. “Although your period can stop (even for many years), the mechanism behind birth control is not to permanently disrupt fertility,” says Kameelah Phillips, MD, ob/gyn in private practice.
Fertility resumes as soon as birth control stops and ovulation resumes. This is why people can become pregnant after missing just one dose of the Pill.
MYTH: Some penises are too big for condoms.
Nope, nope, nope, nope, nope. As Dr. Phillips puts it, “Boy, bye.”
“I frequently hear this as a reason why women allow their partners to not use condoms. Condoms can expand to the size of a balloon, so they can definitely accommodate any size penis,” says Dr. Phillips.
MYTH: Lesbians don’t need cervical cancer screening.
Cervical cancer is often caused by infection with certain strains of HPV (that is, human papillomavirus). It’s true that HPV infection is most commonly linked to penetrative sex—requiring a penis and vagina—so hetereosexual couples are generally at a higher risk.
In other words, lesbian women do have a lower chance of developing cervical cancer, but not low enough that they don’t need regular cervical cancer screenings (such as the Pap test and HPV test). Many lesbians have had sex with men in the past, and HPV can spread from other types of skin-to-skin contact, according to the American Sexual Health Association.
Lesbians should also consider getting the HPV vaccine to significantly reduce their risk of cervical cancer, just like heterosexual women.
MYTH: Pap smears test for STIs.
When your ob/gyn informs you that your Pap test came back “normal,” you might breathe a sigh of relief and think you’re all clear—STIs and all. The truth is, a Pap test only checks for cell changes that may lead to cervical cancers. It does not test for infections like HIV, gonorrhea, or chlamydia. You’ll have to ask your ob/gyn if you want these tests as well.
MYTH: Women have lower libidos.
Low libido among women *is* fairly common, affecting one in three women, according to Michael Ingber, MD, board-certified in Urology and Urogynecology. For some, it may even be an actual disorder known as hypoactive sexual desire disorder. “Women need to see a doctor if they’re bothered,” says Dr. Ingber.
It’s a myth, however, that being born a woman automatically makes you less sexual than your male peers. Indeed, this myth has a side effect of shaming women who have lively libidos and active sex lives. Keep in mind that libidos fall all across the spectrum, regardless of your gender. If your low sex drive is bothering you, there are many factors that can affect your libido that could be remedied.
MYTH: You don’t need to worry about STIs until you have symptoms.
No itching, burning, or pain? You’re not necessarily in the clear. “Chlamydia, gonorrhea, HPV, hepatitis B, and HIV are all sexually transmitted diseases that often have no symptoms as noted,” says Kecia Gaither, MD, MPH, FACOG, double board-certified in ob/gyn and maternal fetal medicine, and director of perinatal services at NYC Health + Hospitals/Lincoln.
Still got questions? Go ahead and ask your ob/gyn those “awkward” questions—they’ve heard it all before.
Can a girl get pregnant if her periods are irregular? Jacksonville, FL: Nemours Foundation, 2015. (Accessed on January 10 ,2022 at https://kidshealth.org/en/teens/irregular-periods-qa.html#catmedical-tests.)
Cervical cancer: what do my test results mean? Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Accessed on January 10 ,2022 at https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/cervical/basic_info/test-results.htm.)