Béa FertilityStart Assessment

Sex-ed and the seven myths

25 Apr 2023

Many of us remember our sex-ed classes in school, putting a condom on a banana while being warned about the dangers of teenage pregnancy. While some were lucky and recieved an informative lesson, others found the whole experience harrowing. Today, let’s look at the seven myths you might have heard in sex-ed classes (or been told by your classmates afterwards).

Myth One: If you have sex, you will get pregnant.

Let’s start with perhaps the most common myths taught to us in sex education class – sex will result in pregnancy. Unfortunately, that’s just not the case. As anyone who has ever had problems trying to get pregnant will tell you, this is one of the biggest misconceptions school sex-ed class plants in our brains. Fast forward to our thirties, when we decide we want to have a baby, it can come as quite a shock when regular, unprotected sex doesn’t quite do the trick. That’s not to say that all the seventeen-year-olds reading this can just run around having unprotected sex without getting pregnant – because some of you definitely will – but it’s not that simple .

Myth Two: Fertilisation can only happen if internal ejaculation occurs.

Coitus Interruptus, or the ‘pull out method’, is a lot more difficult than it sounds. Pre-ejaculate (known to some as ‘precum’) occurs when seminal fluid leaves the penis before ejaculation can contain sperm cells, which can result in pregnancy. The ‘pull out method’ is notoriously ineffective, despite what some classmates believed.

Pro tip: wear a condom (unless you want a baby).

Depending on where you were in the world you were educated, the ‘no sex before marriage’ may have been blasted loud and clear, or have been more of an undertone of sex-ed classes. So let’s be clear: it’s your choice. If someone does not want to have sex until they are married, then that is a perfectly reasonable decision for them to make. Similarly, choosing to have sex before marriage, having sex and never getting married, or never having sex at all are all acceptable choices we are free to make for ourselves. It is a question of choice ( a point that school sex ed seemed to miss).

Myth Four: You can’t get pregnant if you have sex standing up or on your period.

The concept that the position you have sex in prevents fertilisation stems from the idea that gravity will prevent sperm from entering the uterus, however, sperm are capable of swimming against gravity to reach the uterus . For those curious but scared to ask, no, what your friends told you was untrue… having sex in a swimming pool is an equally ineffective way of preventing pregnancy.

Whilst it is unlikely that sexual intercourse during a period will result in pregnancy, it is by no means impossible. Sperm can survive inside the vagina for up to 72 hours after ejaculation and the duration of a menstrual cycle varies from person to person.

Key takeaway: it’s unlikely you’ll get pregnant on your period but not impossible, so it’s wise to use contraceptives if pregnancy is not your aim.

Myth Five: Having lots of sex stretches the vagina.

Let’s just bin this one right now. The vagina is made of highly elastic tissue, supported by a series of mostly horizontal muscles in the pelvic floor. It is “ designed to stretch and accommodate your baby during childbirth and return to nearly the same size within just a few weeks after delivery .” There is no evidence that sex can cause the vagina to stretch and the idea that it does can be traced back to the efforts of some to shame women over their sexuality.

Myth Six: Masturbation is wrong.

Masturbation is the subject of a great deal of embarrassment for many and is usually seen as something hidden and shameful. It’s also predominantly portrayed (in films, literature, and popular culture) as an inherently male activity. We need to let this one go. Masturbation nurtures the most important sexual relationship you will ever have: yours, with yourself. It’s normal, it’s healthy and it should be shame-free. Research shows that masturbation comes with many health benefits:

  • Improved circulation
  • Better-regulated reproductive hormones
  • Healthy estrogen production
  • Relaxation
  • Boosted DHEA levels (contributing to a healthy brain, skin, tissue and immune system)
  • Stronger immune system
  • Increased pain tolerance
  • Increased oxytocin (making you feel more passionate, intuitive and sociable).

So off you go, have fun!

Myth Seven: The contraceptive pill causes infertility.

Alongside being taught sex = pregnancy, we were also fed a list of completely random items that can ‘apparently’ contribute to infertility. For the average twenty-something woman, the sheer number of perfectly mundane things that will, apparently, cause infertility is baffling. In the top slot is usually the contraceptive pill.

Contrary to popular belief, the contraceptive pill does not cause infertility. Dr Alex Eskander has stated that,

“Online articles can be misleading and can leave you feeling apprehensive when there is no need to be. Much research has been carried out into the effect of hormonal contraceptives and whether birth control can harm your fertility. The overwhelming conclusion is that it has no adverse effect on your fertility, but there are a few things that you should bear in mind.”

We took a group of five women between the ages of nineteen and twenty-five and asked them to tell us what they had been taught in sex-ed would make them infertile, and the list is staggering: horse riding, caffeine, rugby, X-rays, MRIs, bacon (clogs your arteries and your fallopian tubes apparently), face cream, dieting, having your phone in your front pocket, gum disease and stress (including the stress of worrying about all the things that might make you infertile). The list goes on, and the majority of the items on the list are completely irrelevant to your chances of getting pregnant.

The more fertility-savvy amongst you are probably aware that some of these are rooted in the truth. Gum disease is inflammatory and could – potentially – be linked with an increased immune response which could, in turn, reduce the likelihood of implantation. Parabens found in some personal care products can impact testosterone levels which could have knock-on effects on sperm production. The data is not clear.

What we do know is this...

There is insufficient evidence to suggest that any of the items on the list above have any impact on your fertility. The best thing you can do if you are worried is to speak to your doctor.

The sex-ed curriculum needs a rewrite. As it stands, it is damaging our perception of sex and fertility. When we struggle to conceive we feel ashamed because we think it should be easy. School teaches us that pregnancy is an (almost) automatic result of sex, which it simply isn’t. We need an updated sex-ed program for teaching teenagers about sex and fertility. One that is evidence-based, shame-free and sex-positive. When we don’t have the right information, we can’t make the right choices.

So there you have it. Go forth, free of worry about masturbation, the pill or bacon.

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