Throughout your college experience, there are many opportunities to choose to engage – or not engage – in sexual relationships. Different students on campus have very different experiences with sexual health education, and misinformation can be encountered along the way. SPECS strives to promote accessible and inclusive sex-positive education, and our column at The Campus is one of those places we have on campus. Here are five common myths about sex and sexual health that SPECS says are important to clear up:
“Jokes are just jokes”
There may be times when you hear so-called humorous comments that make light of STIs, sexual assault or rape, unexpected pregnancies, or other sexual health issues. These types of jokes may not be intended to cause harm, but they can be difficult to respond to because they further stigmatize the common challenges college students face. The problem with jokes about these topics is that the person making the joke often has no idea about the personal experiences of the people they intend to make fun of. Even a person’s closest friends may be living with an STI or have a traumatic background from sexual abuse that they choose not to share. We can’t assume that everyone will take this type of reference positively, because they often carry a lot of weight — especially when the topic is relevant to someone’s life. Being mindful of your own choice of words and leading by example in stopping potentially harmful language are the best ways to avoid contributing to a culture of shame and silence around sexual health.
“Two condoms are better than one”
You may have heard the phrase “two is better than one” when it comes to birth control, but it’s true no means you have to use two condoms at once. In fact, wearing multiple condoms (ie, layering two outer condoms or using an inner and outer condom) increases the risk of the materials tearing. The phrase “two is better than one” actually refers to combining two kinds of birth control methods: barrier and non-barrier. Barrier methods include condoms, diaphragms, and cervical caps. Non-barrier methods include IUDs, birth control pills, patches, rings, implants or injections. Hormonal birth control usually refers to drugs or implants that provide continuous protection against pregnancy, while non-hormonal methods are usually physical barriers that prevent sperm from reaching the egg. One exception, however, is the highly effective copper IUD, which is a non-hormonal barrier-free method of birth control. Using two different forms of birth control is a good safety net for avoiding pregnancy, even though condoms are the only form of birth control that also protects against STIs. Talk to your doctor and any sexual partners about the best option for you.
“If she’s wet, she wants it”
It may seem intuitive to relate someone’s physiological responses to their mental state. However, physical activity can often be quite detached from a person’s true feelings. The mismatch between one’s emotional desires and their physical responses is known as arousal mismatch. Physiological arousal can be triggered by any environmental stimulus, whether directly sexual such as touch or indirectly sexual such as room temperature. These stimuli are associated with one’s sense of pleasure, leading to involuntary bodily responses such as lubrication or increased genital blood flow. However, these responses are not indicative of one’s subjective sexual arousal, which refers to the mental experience during sex. This is especially important to remember in the context of consent. If someone’s body is aroused during non-consensual sex, it does not mean that they are enjoying it. Similarly, if your partner can’t experience physical arousal during sex, it doesn’t mean he’s not attracted to you. In a sexual context, there are many stimuli that your body may not always respond to in the way you hope. Clear communication and consent are key ingredients when it comes to ensuring that each party feels safe, cared for and satisfied.
“The purpose of sex is orgasm”
Many people define sex as “done” when one or more of the parties involved has an orgasm. Orgasm, commonly referred to as “cumming” or “climaxing,” can be an exciting and pleasurable part of sex, but it doesn’t have to be the only goal or end goal of the sexual act. If orgasm is something desired by one or more partners, conversations should be had about what that would mean. However, there should be no expectation that this has to happen for it to be perceived as a pleasant experience. Sex is a multifaceted, emotionally and physically intimate experience that should be enjoyable at all stages, from the beginning of the activity to whenever the participants decide to stop. The capacity to experience pleasure is not “over” as soon as orgasm occurs. Sometimes sex may involve multiple orgasms for some partners, or it may involve none. Sometimes one partner has an orgasm and the other doesn’t. There is no right or wrong way to do it, as long as all partners are happy with the experience and all consent standards are met.
“I’ll know if I have an STI”
One of the common misconceptions about STIs is that they manifest themselves the way a common cold would—you wake up one morning with recognizable symptoms and immediately know something is up. In reality, many STIs (especially those most common on college campuses) are often asymptomatic. More than half of people infected with chlamydia, for example, do not experience any symptoms. Gonorrhea, herpes, trichomoniasis, HPV, hepatitis B, and even HIV can also occur without recognizable symptoms, leaving many people in the dark about their health status, which can lead to worse long-term health outcomes. Although this may seem scary, contracting an STI can be easily avoided with the right protection methods. Internal and external condoms, as well as dental dams, are very effective in preventing the transmission of STIs. However, with or without protection, we at SPECS recommend getting tested for STIs at least once a year or between new partners to ensure safety for yourself and potential partners. Middlebury Health Services offers confidential testing for STIs that is free or for a fee depending on your insurance. Other options are available at Porter Medical Center or Planned Parenthood locations in Rutland and Burlington. Regular STI testing is a great way to take control of your sex life when things feel uncertain.
After all, college can be a time for some to explore sexually and become more attuned to their bodies. Staying vigilant about the accuracy of the sexual health information you receive is critical to prioritizing the safety and comfort of you and your partner(s). SPECS is here to answer any questions!