Sex Education Outreach Programme Challenges Myths in Irish Teenagers: Debunking sexual health myths that face Irish teenagers is one of the main aims of the SFI funded Irish sexual health education project ‘Debunking The Myths: The Science Behind Our Sexual Health‘. Project Co-Lead and RCSI Obstetrics and Gynaecology Research Programme Manager Doctor Zara Molphy, who...
Sex Education Outreach Programme Challenges Myths in Irish Teenagers: Debunking sexual health myths that face Irish teenagers is one of the main aims of the SFI funded Irish sexual health education project ‘Debunking The Myths: The Science Behind Our Sexual Health‘. Project Co-Lead and RCSI Obstetrics and Gynaecology Research Programme Manager Doctor Zara Molphy, who sets the record straight in this Irish Times article on some of the most common sexual health misconceptions teenagers today are exposed to such as:
1) Myth – Condoms mean safe sex
Safe sex means caring for your sexual health and that of your partners, lowering your combined risk of sexually transmitted infections, and being conscious of the choices you both make surrounding sexual health and wellbeing.
“Safe sex should incorporate consent, and appropriate contraceptive and prophylactic use,” says Dr Molphy. “Enthusiastic consent is the most vital part of a healthy sexual relationship, whether or not you are having casual sex.”
Dr Molphy outlines that when used correctly and consistently, heterosexual use of condoms, external (male) and internal (female) condoms act as a physical “barrier” contraceptive. “Not only can they prevent pregnancy,” she says, “but they can also protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs). When used correctly every time you have sex, male condoms are proven to be up to 98% effective while female condoms are approximately 95% effective in preventing pregnancy. However, a number of factors can make condoms less effective including incorrect sizing/shape of condom, incorrect condom application, condom usage after expiration date, use of a damaged/torn condom, use with the wrong lubricant/lotions, use of multiple condoms.”
For further protection, Dr Molphy advises a second contraceptive such as the pill, intrauterine system , implant, patch, vaginal ring, or diaphragm which can also be used. “If you have had unprotected sex,” she says, “or your contraception method has failed and do not wish to get pregnant, a number of emergency contraceptive options are available”.
For gay and bisexual men pre-exposure prophylactics can be used to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS, advises Dr Molphy. “However,” she says, “they do not prevent the spread of other STIs therefore, it is vital to use condoms while having casual sex. Notably, condoms do not prevent against the spread of HPV (which can cause cervical, mouth and anal cancers and genital warts) so it is important for both men and women to get vaccinated.”
2) Myth – You’ll know if you or your partner have an STI because of symptoms
A prevailing and perpetuating myth is that an STI is obvious, and you can easily tell if a blind date, or potential partner has an STI. However, STI symptoms are not always noticeable and just because you are not showing signs or symptoms of an STI does not mean you don’t need an STI test.
“Many STIs like HIV, HPV, neurosyphilis, chlamydia and trichomoniasis show no signs or symptoms and can be passed readily to sexual partners,” says Dr Molphy. “The only way to be sure whether you have an STI or not, is to get tested by your GP or sexual health clinic. It is also possible to obtain a free STI testing kit from sh24.ie. A timely STI diagnosis and treatment is important to avoid potentially life-threatening health problems for you and your sexual partner(s).”
3) Myth – STIs don’t cause infertility
There are many unsubstantiated myths surrounding STIs and one of the more harmful myths concerns the idea that STIs don’t cause infertility. STIs are responsible for more cases of infertility than we may realise. Considering infections can fly under the radar and go untreated for years, the damaging effects can be permanent.
“If left undiagnosed and untreated, a number of STIs can result in both male and female infertility,” advises Dr Molphy. “For example, chlamydia can result in irrevocable damage in the fallopian tubes in women, and in men can lead to DNA fragmentation and malformed and immobile sperm. In women, untreated gonorrhoea can cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), while in men it can cause inflammation of the epididymis.”
Left untreated, STIs have the potential to greatly impact fertility and without regular testing, the issue may only be discovered when attempting to conceive.
“Significantly,” says Dr Molphy, “the Centre for Disease Control in the United States recommends annual chlamydia and gonorrhoea screening for: sexually active women younger than 25 years, older women with risk factors such as new or multiple sex partners, or a sex partner who has an STI, and all sexually active gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men.”
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