Myths and Misconceptions
1. Myth: Kids these days are already way too active sexually and don’t need information.
Actually, there is recent evidence that many young people are delaying first sexual intercourse and that most youth do not regularly have sexual intercourse until late high school or after. (Boyce et al, 2003). Abortion rates are declining in Canada (Statistics Canada, 2005) and reports in the United States show a similar trend. However, those same reports have pointed out some worrisome issues and trends:
- some young people are experimenting with sexual intercourse at a young age
- some youth are having sexual intercourse more often and with more partners
- most youth did not know that people infected with STI or HIV can appear healthy
- STI rates, particularly chlamydia, are highest among adolescents
- over 40,000 teens aged 15-19 get pregnant each year in Canada
2. Myth: Kids will pick up what they need to know on their own.
Parents, adults and society are already playing major roles in forming the knowledge, attitudes and beliefs about sexual health. Children learn by observing their parents, by talking with their friends and by watching television, movies and other media. So, unless parents, schools and other institutions take an active, planned role, we run the risk of kids growing up without guidance, being misinformed by their friends or acquiring the commercial and exploitive values often promoted in the media.
3. Myth: We are not providing any sexual health education if we don’t talk about it.
When we avoid talking about sexual health, we send the message that this subject is taboo or wrong in some way. We need to send messages that tell young people to be comfortable and unashamed of their bodies, that physical affection is okay, that talking about sexual health does not lead to sexual activity and that sexual expression should eventually become a healthy part of their lives.
4. Myth: If you talk with or educate young people about sexual health, they will experiment with sex.
Research shows the opposite. If children know more about sexual health, they are more likely to postpone initiation or use contraceptives (Frost & Darroch Forrest, 1995; Grunseit & Kippax, 1993; Grunseit et al., 1997; Kirby, 2000). A meta-analysis of published teenage pregnancy prevention program evaluations shows that these programs do not increase sexual activity but do significantly increase contraceptive use among sexually active teens, and that those programs which include the distribution of contraceptives are the most effective (Franklin, Grant, Corcoran, O’Dell Miller & Bultman, 1997)
5. Misconception: If schools teach sexual health education, this will replace the role of parents.
In fact, several studies have shown that school-based sexual health education results in more child-parent communication.
6. Misconception: If teachers or parents are not comfortable talking about sexual health, then it is better not to discuss it.
It is natural to be uncomfortable talking about some or most parts of sexual health. It is okay for adults to admit they are uncomfortable. By using techniques such as depersonalizing questions, protecting privacy and using the proper terms for anatomy and sexual practices, we de-stigmatize and normalize the discussion.
7. Misconception: Making condoms available to young people will increase sexual activity.
Research has clearly documented that the promotion and distribution of condoms to adolescents does not increase rates of sexual activity, but significantly increases condom use among those adolescents who are sexually active (Guttmacher et al., 1997; Schuster, Bell). Condom availability programs may have a particularly significant impact on young men.
8. Misconception: “Comprehensive” Sexual Health Education Programs don’t promote abstinence.
In fact, comprehensive or holistic programs usually have postponement of sexual activity as one of their primary messages. The secondary message usually is: if you are or considering being sexually active, then the use of condoms and contraception is suggested.For a full review of evidence for sexual health education, go to Common Questions about Sexual Health Education published by the Sex Information and Education Council of Canada.