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January 28, 2014

Sex Education for Grown-Ups.

For a culture that is so preoccupied with sex—who’s doin’ it, who isn’t doin’ it, and who shouldn’t be doin’ it—you would think we would be experts on the facts.

It turns out, though, that we are not.

A recent study by Fertility and Sterility Journal found that, as a whole, we are pretty ignorant when it comes to the most basic facts.

Amongst its findings: 50% wrongly believe that having sex more than once a day will increase their chances of pregnancy. Many do not know when in the menstrual cycle ovulation occurs.

Even more worryingly, more than half of those surveyed admitted that they had never discussed their reproductive health with a medical provider while over 23% of those who said they were sexually active revealed that they used no birth control even though they had no desire to become pregnant.

While some may be shaking their head at this information, I am not very surprised. As someone who lives in an area that is overwhelmingly highly-educated and affluent, I’ve been left with my mouth agape following conversations I have had with friends and acquaintances when the subject of sex has come up. Amongst other things I heard in the past year alone: women sharing that they relied on the “pulling out” method for birth control, a man pushing 40 who had never heard of chlamydia much less knew it was the most common STD in the USA, and a number of people of both sexes expressing disbelief that it is possible for a woman to get pregnant while she is on her period.

Again, none of these people were what you would ever call “dumb”, but their ignorance on even the most basic facts on human sexual biology spoke volumes.

While there are many myths and outright lies on the subject, below are four of the ones that come up the most.

Therefore, read the list below, and see if you believe any of them. You may be surprised at what you learn:

1. A woman cannot get pregnant if she has sex during her period.

Not true.

While it’s uncommon in women who have normal 28 to 32 day cycles, it certainly can happen to those with irregular cycles. Therefore, having sex during your period is not necessarily “safer” especially depending on where you are in your period. (If you want a detailed explanation of how and why it can happen, then read here.)

2. A woman makes new eggs each month.

Nope. Unlike the guys who regularly make new sperm, we women are actually born with all the eggs we will ever have. As we age, our eggs age, too. That’s one of the reason why some things like Down Syndrome is more common in women over a certain age.

Therefore, even if we look years younger than our given ages and take great care of ourselves, our eggs are still aging.

3. The withdrawal or “pulling out” method is reliable birth control.

I thought that this one died after I graduated from high school but for some reason, this one prevails.

Repeat after me: pulling out is not an effective form of birth control.

According to Sex for Dummies, this has resulted in more pregnancies than any other myth. (I know of at at least 4 couples who became pregnant this way-all of them were over 30 at the time. I also know one man who still uses this as his primary method of birth control even though he had two girlfriends become pregnant on this method of “birth control”.)

Plus, at the risk of TMI, I never got the appeal given the messiness factor. You are a 1000 times safer and better off using a condom.

4. A woman’s fertility drastically declines after she reaches 35.

We’ve all heard this. In fact, I can remember a Time or Newsweek cover story I read back in the 1990s trumpeting this “fact”. However, it turns out that the experts may have gotten it wrong.

While it is true that fertility declines with age, a scientist based at Duke University found that the “drastic decline” were are all familiar with simply is not the case: “a 35-to-39-year-old’s fertility two days before ovulation was the same as a 19-to-26-year-old’s fertility three days before ovulation.”

Therefore, do not automatically toss out the birth control once you blow out the candles out on your 35th birthday cake. Plus, it’s anecdotal, but my late father-in-law’s mother who was in her late 30s when she married went on to have her first child (him) at the age of 45. Apparently, she was told children were out of the question given her “advanced age”. Apparently, they were wrong.

5. Ejaculating leads to the loss of vital life force which may lead to premature aging, disease, and other maladies.

I am hesitant to include this one, but I have heard this mentioned by numerous people who were into Taoist sexual practices. In fact, one got into an argument with me when I discussed skepticism over this claim.

To the best of my knowledge, there has never been any scientific evidence to back this up. If you are a woman and happen to find a male partner who is into this, it can be interesting because often the focus tends to be on the female orgasm. However, I heard from at least one woman it was not as fun as it sounds because her then-partner was constantly worried about the “right” time to ejaculate vs. the “wrong” time. Personally, it sounded like their sex life was too complicated for my personal taste, but to each their own.

In conclusion, being able to separate sexual facts from fiction is something that each of us should strive for. This is one case where ignorance is certainly not bliss since it can lead to an unwanted pregnancy and/or possibly lead to problems if we decide that we ever want to become pregnant.

Therefore, don’t be afraid to speak up and voice your questions to healthcare providers or other experts. While many of us cringe at the mere thought of talking about our sex lives, this is the group to ask. After all, it what they are there for. Plus, anything you tell them is confidential.

We’ve all heard it before but ultimately there really are no dumb questions except the ones we chose not to ask at the risk of being embarrassed or sounding “stupid”.

Caring about your health and your sex life enough to ask is actually one of the smartest things we can do.

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Editor: Rachel Nussbaum

Photo: elephant archives

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