Top 10 Myths About Safe Sex And Sexual Health

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couple in bed
Find answers to your sexual health questions here.

You know the best place to get information about your sexual health is from your doctor, but for whatever reason—convenience, privacy, or anxiety and urgency—you may one day find yourself searching the Internet for answers to intimate and important questions.

It's great to learn more about your body and your choices, but explore those search results with caution: A recent Stanford University study on adolescent reproductive health found that health websites are often riddled with errors, omissions, and outdated advice, and that it's not always easy to find the truth about common myths believed by many teenagers (and probably many adults as well!).

We spoke with Dr. Sophia Yen, MD, lead researcher of the study and adolescent medicine specialist at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital in Palo Alto, Calif., to get the facts behind these top sexual health misconceptions.

MYTH: You can catch an STD from a toilet seat

Sexually transmitted diseases or infections can't live outside the body for a long period of time—especially not on a cold, hard surface like a toilet seat. Plus, they aren't present in urine, anyway (it's usually sterile), so the chances of you catching one from whoever used the bathroom before you are slim to none, says Dr. Yen.

What you do need to worry about, however, is what may seem like benign skin-to-skin or mouth-to-mouth contact. Kissing, for example, can spread herpes (and deeper kissing can even spread oral gonorrhea and chlamydia, Dr. Yen warns), while skin rubbing together can pass infections such as genital warts, herpes, scabies, and pubic lice.

MYTH: You can't get pregnant the first time you have sex

It may seem like the odds are in your favor, but there's no reason to risk it: You are just as likely to get pregnant the first time you have sex as any other. "In fact, some statistics say that 20% of people get pregnant within a month of starting sex," says Dr. Yen.

MYTH: You can't get pregnant during your period

It is unlikely, but still possible—especially if you're not using a condom or birth control. Some women have long periods that overlap with the beginning of ovulation, which means they can be fertile even though they're menstruating.

Say you have a short cycle (21 days, for example) and your period lasts a week. If you have sex close to the end of your period, you could become pregnant since sperm can live for up to 72 hours in your reproductive tract.

There's also the infamous late-in-life pregnancy that can occur during perimenopause, when periods are erratic. Experts say it's not safe to ditch birth control until you haven't had a period for a year.

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