Sex Myths

I traditionally start my Sexuality Education unit addressing myths about sex. I do this, even though some of these myths seem unbelievable – does anyone really believe that you can’t get pregnant if you have sex standing up? However, in this era of medical misinformation, and influencers seeking views and likes, it’s important for teachers to address some of these myths. There are Tik-Tok creators pushing back against bogus science, and while I might not be as creative as them, I’d like to think that my sex myths Kahoot goes some way towards helping fight the good fight*

I start my sophomore sexuality education unit slowly by setting the scene for a productive quarter. I’m lucky that I have my students for a semester, so by the time we start having conversations about reproduction, contraception, STI’s etc I’ve built relationships, created a good classroom environment, and (think I) know how mature the class will be. The questions in the Kahoot allow me to address some myths, but also foreshadow many of our conversations and introduce some key messages in a lighthearted way.

The Kahoot is titled ‘seggs myths‘ and this is not a typing error. Some students notice this and are aware of my reasoning behind replacing the word sex with seggs. Many online platforms use automated systems to filter out inappropriate material. While this is a good idea, it often means that sex educators find their content being hidden or removed from searches. [Here’s What ‘Seggs’ Means When You See It on Social Media]

1. Sex education is mandatory in all US public schools. This is false. Sex education standards vary by state – with some not having any curriculum requirements in schools. As of June 2022, 39 states plus Washington, D.C., mandate sex education, HIV education or both, according to Guttmacher Institute data. This fact allows me to point out that the experience of my students in Illinois will differ from people they meet in college. Not all students get the same experience.

2. Teen pregnancy is on the rise in the US. This is false. In 2020, the teen birth rate was 15.4 (births for every 1,000 females ages 15-19), down eight percent from 2019 and down 75 percent from the 1991 peak of 61.8. You could mention that teen birth rates also vary substantially across regions and states. In 2019, the lowest teen birth rates were reported in the northeast, while rates were highest in states across the southern part of the country. [Trends in Teen Pregnancy and Childbearing]

3. STI’s are on the rise in the US. This is true. The 2020 STD Surveillance Report found that at the end of 2020 reported cases of gonorrhea, syphilis, and congenital syphilis surpassed 2019 levels. Declines in Chlamydia are likely due to decreased STI screening and under diagnosis during the pandemic, rather than a reduction in new infections. In 2020, over half (53%) of reported cases of STI’s were among adolescents and young adults aged 15–24 years. [Update: 2021 data STI rates continue to rise]

4. Abstinence only education is the best way to prevent both teen pregnancy and STI’s. This is false. Guttmacher Institute reports that “all young people should have access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health information that is medically accurate, LGBTQ-inclusive, and culturally and age appropriate so that they can make informed decisions about their sexual behavior, relationships and reproductive choices”.Abstinence-only programs promote judgment, fear, guilt and shame around sex. These programs frame premarital sexual activity and pregnancy as wrong or risky choices with negative health outcomes and seek to shame sexually active young people.

5. Which of these is a benefit of receiving comprehensive Sex Education? All of the above. In Three Decades of Research: The Case for Comprehensive Sex Education, the following benefits of CSE are stated: Reduced cases of child sex abuse, safer spaces for LGBTQ+ young people, a reduction in relationship violence. “Sex Ed” is so much more than just “Sex Ed”.

6. Which of these is the most effective way to prevent an STI? Abstinence. I want students and parents to know that abstinence is still the choice that I suggest for students. Many of my students aren’t physically or emotionally ready to engage in sexual activity and yet I know that for some of my students it’s something that they have already experienced. That said, when I share school YRBS data I can state that the majority of our students are not engaging in sex. Abstinence remains the #1 choice for our students, more so at a younger age. In my school I can go beyond abstinence. I deliver an abstinence-plus curriculum. I can share evidence-based and age-appropriate information about contraceptive options and their effectiveness related to pregnancy and sexual health and can encourage a practical approach to healthy behaviors and decision-making.

7. Using two condoms instead of one increases protection from pregnancy or STI’s. This is false. Using two condoms can cause friction between them, weakening the material and increasing the chance that the condoms might break. This question allows me to use the language of internal and external condom. Not all of my students are aware of both types of condoms.

8. Women who have sex with other women can’t get pregnant so don’t need to use contraception. This is false. There’s a few layers to talk about here. Not all women who have sex with other women ONLY have sex with other women, so in that instance they might need to make contraceptive choices. Also oral contraceptives can reduce instances of heavy bleeding, irregular periods, painful periods, and menstrual cramps. [Sexual Minority Women and Contraceptive Use: Complex Pathways Between Sexual Orientation and Health Outcomes]

9. Only people that have a lot of sex partners are at risk of getting STI’s. This is false. Ways to reduce the risk of contracting an STI include using barrier methods, getting tested for STI’s regularly, and also reducing the number of sexual partners. That said, even if someone has only had one sexual partner, that partner could have a disease. [What are the chances of having an STI?]

10. Oral sex is a safe way of showing affection. This is false. This is a frequent misconception. Oral sex is safer in that there’s no risk of pregnancy but you can get STIs from genital contact, semen and vaginal fluids. If your mouth comes in contact with an infected area, there is a possibility that you can get an infection. Here’s a chance for me to reinforce the use of barrier methods for protection during oral sex.

11. As long as there’s no penetration, you don’t have to worry about STI’s. This is false. This question allows me to foreshadow STI conversations regarding methods of transmission. STI’s are spread through sexual contact with someone who has an STD, this includes genital skin-to-skin contact. Genital herpes, syphilis, and human papillomavirus (HPV) are most often spread through genital skin-to-skin contact. [STI transmission vis skin-to-skin contact]

12. If you are allergic to latex you can use other methods of contraception but not condoms. This is false. Not everyone chooses the right method of protection first time around. I let students know that there are decisions to be made regarding the suitability of each method and that this differs from person to person. Latex free condoms exist for those with a latex allergy. [What to know about allergy to latex condoms]

13. You can’t get pregnant if you use a condom. This is false. When used correctly every time, external condoms are 98% effective. This means 2 out of 100 people will become pregnant in 1 year when external condoms are used as contraception. However, user error occurs for a number of reasons and this question allows me to ask students “why might a condom fail?”.

14. You can’t get an STI if you use a condom. This is false. See above. Whether you use internal condoms or external condoms, they are both very effective in preventing HIV and many other STDs when used the right way every time. Condoms may prevent the spread of other STI’s, like HPV or genital herpes, but only when the condom covers the infected areas or sores.

15. STI precautions must be taken regardless of who is involved. This is true. It doesn’t matter who is involved in the sexual activity, and it doesn’t matter if that activity runs the risk of an unplanned pregnancy. I tell my students that to reduce the risk of STI’s they should have open and honest conversations with their partners regarding their sexual history. They should discuss what they both want from that sexual encounter, and they should discuss which barrier methods they plan to use. [Condom and Contraceptive Use Among Sexually Active High School Students]

16. Pulling out before ejaculation is a recommended method of contraception. This is false. Withdrawal is the oldest form of birth control on the planet. Typically this method is effective 80% of the time, and those are odds that my students can’t afford to play. Plus, if they are pulling out because they want to prevent a pregnancy, then they still run the risk of contracting an STI.

17. Emergency contraception can be used up to 5 days after unprotected sex. This is true. Emergency Contraception (EC) can stop a pregnancy before it starts. There are four types of EC to choose from and they all work up to 5 days (or 120 hours) after unprotected sex. But use it sooner rather than later to reduce the possibility of getting pregnant. [How does emergency contraception work]

18. One of these bodily fluids can NOT transmit HIV. Saliva. My students probably know that HIV can be transmitted via blood, they might know that it can be transmitted by semen, but they probably don’t know that it can be passed on via breast milk. HIV can not be contracted from saliva, or sweat, or tears. [What body fluids transmit HIV?]

19. Cold sores are an STI. This is false. This is a question that often gets asked in class and a true/false Kahoot question is not the best way to answer it. Oral herpes and genital herpes share similarities and differences. There are 2 different kinds of herpes simplex viruses (HSV-1 and HSV-2). HSV-1 usually causes oral herpes, and HSV-2 usually causes genital herpes — each strain prefers to live on its favorite area. But it’s totally possible for both types of herpes simplex to infect either area. For example, you can get HSV-1 on your genitals if someone with a cold sore on their lips gives you oral sex. And you can get HSV-2 in your mouth if you give oral sex to someone with HSV-2 on their genitals. [Oral and genital herpes]

20. You can tell if someone had an STI. This is false. This question allows me to add the word asymptomatic to my students vocabulary. Many STI’s have no signs or symptoms, and can still be passed onto partners. At this point I reiterate the message that conversations about sexual history, barrier methods, regular testing, including with each new partner are all ways in which to reduce the risks of STI transmission. [This Is How Often You Need To Get Tested For STDs, Based On Your Relationship Status]

21. All STI’s can be treated. This is true. STIs are very common, and all STIs are treatable. Many are completely curable. Even STIs that are not curable can be treated and the symptoms managed with medicines. I want students to know that it is possible to contract an STI and still live a full life. [How to Reduce Shame and Stigma When You Have an STI]

22. All STI’s can be prevented. This is true. See abstinence.

23. All STI’s can be cured. This is false. Currently, there are 4 viral STI’s that are not curable: herpes, hepatitis B, HIV, and HPV. People with an STI caused by a virus will be infected for life and will need to take steps to prevent infecting their sexual partners.

24. Shaking or rinsing out sperm is an effective way to prevent pregnancy. This is false. This 3 minute video from ETR, covers some sex myths, including this one.

25. Parents have the right to remove their students from Sex Education classes. This is true. I send a letter home letting families know the ethos of our sexuality education unit and a list of topics and skills to be covered. Some families would prefer that this material is taught at home, or perhaps it doesn’t align with their values or beliefs. For that reason they can ask to remove their child. Often, after more communication, parents ask for a heads up regarding certain topics and keep their child in class for all but a few conversations.

10 Mega Myths About Sex

Myths and Facts About Sex

Debunking Common Myths About HIV

*The free version of Kahoot has many limitations and while I have tried to be as inclusive as possible with my language and examples, I acknowledge that the questions presented lean towards heterosexual relationships.

Here’s that seggs myths Kahoot link if you missed it.

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