Top 10 Myths About Safe Sex And Sexual Health

By

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

MYTH: Women need a Pap smear when they turn 18

In 2003, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists changed its recommendation for Pap tests, also known as Pap smears; previously, the test was recommended immediately after a woman first has sexual intercourse or at age 18, whichever came first.

Now, Pap tests aren't recommended until women have been sexually active for about three years, or until they turn 21.

An early Pap test may seem harmless, but the stress of needing a Pap—often thought of as an uncomfortable and invasive procedure—may cause young women to avoid their gynecologist or refrain from asking about birth control. Young women should be able to approach their doctors and discuss these issues without the scrutiny of unnecessary tests, says Dr. Yen.

Why the reason for the change? Most cases of human papillomavirus (HPV) clear up on their own within three years; it's only the cases that stick around longer—and will be picked up by a later Pap test—that are real causes for concern because they can lead to cervical cancer.

MYTH: The "morning after" pill causes an abortion

Plan B, also known as the "morning after" pill, is not the same as RU-486, a pill that causes an abortion. In fact, if you take Plan B when you're already pregnant—that is, if a fertilized egg has attached to the wall of your uterus—it won't make a bit of difference.

In previous research, more than 30% of sexually active adolescents said that they believed emergency contraceptives induce abortion. And in Dr. Yen's study, 10 of the 34 websites studied failed to mention the difference between the two drugs.

"No one likes the word 'abortion'," says Dr. Yen, "so I think a lot of websites aren't going to state that Plan B is not, in fact, an abortive agent."

MYTH: The "morning after" pill is not available to minors without a prescription

As of April 2009, Plan B is available to women ages 17 and up, nationwide, over the counter without a prescription. (You just need to ask the pharmacist.) It has been available over the counter for those 18 and up since 2006, while individual states could make their own rulings about availability to minors.

Nine states—Alaska, California, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Washington, and Vermont—have sold and will continue to sell Plan B directly to women of any age.