(VTV BREAKFAST, JULY 4, 2001)
Because we jokingly call teens “the people who don’t know that they don’t know”, I spend much of my time in high schools trying to find out what teens know, or think they know, and replacing that with accurate information. Not to say that many teens aren’t very knowledgeable about their sexual health (I’ve learned a lot from them too!), but it is difficult not to accept or believe the many crazy ideas that are spread from school to school. After doing a brief survey of the questions I’ve received from teens in schools all over BC in the past year, here are the most common myths that are circulating:
1. Mountain Dew kills sperm.
Maybe it’s wishful thinking, but it’s not true! Mountain Dew, or any other pop, definitely does not kill sperm! We think this idea may have something to do with the commercial a few years ago that showed steel nails being dissolved in a glass of cola. People may think that if pop can dissolve nails, it can certainly kill sperm. In reality, the caffeine in Mountain Dew speeds up the sperm so it does the deed faster!
2. Anal sex is a safe alternative to vaginal intercourse.
With the growing trend for it to be “cool” to preserve one’s virginity (thank goodness!), it seems that teens are choosing to be sexually intimate by engaging in activities other than vaginal intercourse. For example, anal and oral sex are seen by many teens as “safe” alternatives. What many of them don’t know is that these activities are not safe at all when it comes to putting them at risk for STDs. A recent article in Ladies Home Journal points out that 4 million teens contract an STD in the US every year, some of these from oral sex. We are not far behind here in Canada.
3. Most teens lose their virginity around age 14.
Given the way teens talk, it is not hard for teens to think that everyone in the 9th grade is having sex five times a week! Not true. A recent study by the McCreary Institute here in BC points out the only about 30% of 10th graders and 44% of 12th graders have had sex once. These percentages include cases of sexual abuse and assault, so the actual number of teens having sex voluntarily is even lower than this. It is crucial for teens to know that if they are virgins, even when they graduate, they are in the majority. Teens should never feel that they have to have sex to fit in, to be cool, or to be accepted by their peers.
4. If you masturbate, you are a sex maniac. Also, you will grow hair on your palms and your growth will be stunted.
Since 80-90% of males and females masturbate, we’d have a lot of short people walking around if this were true! Masturbation is a big concern for teens (and adults as well!). They need to know that masturbation is normal and healthy, but private, of course. It is natural for teens to have sexual feelings, and masturbation is a perfectly safe way to satisfy these feelings. As for how much is OK, as long as teens are making it to school and can hold down a part-time job, they’re fine!
5. You can lose your virginity by using a tampon.
I’ve heard this concern not only from teens, but from parents as well. Using a tampon may break or tear the hymen, a piece of tissue inside the vagina. The hymen was, at one time, thought as a symbol or evidence of virginity if intact. Because we now know that the hymen can be torn even by exercising vigorously, it has no bearing on virginity. Only though actual vaginal intercourse (or through other types of sexual activity, depending on how one defines virginity) can a female change her standing as a virgin.