Welcome to Echo’s very first chapter of Real Talk. In this series, we’re going to uncover, and tap into topics that are (you guessed it!), hard to talk about. With research, diverse perspectives and an open mind, we hope to equip you with a better understanding of certain ‘taboo’ topics and provide you with proper representation through this series. Today’s topic is very relevant this month just as it is every month. Sexual Health Awareness!
In this article we’re going to debunk myths and misinterpretations on sexual health, and hope to present you with a clearer picture on the whole thing. We’re covering all subtopics from menstruation to STDs, sex and virginity, and even Malaysians’ take on it. I know, it’s a lot to process, but we’ve structured the article for it to be concise and easy to digest, and most importantly, fun and informative to read! To start us off let’s dive into periods, shall we?
Common myths surrounding menstruation
Wait – do you hear that? That’s the sound of snickering adolescent boys at the back of the class. Stop it. You’re not one of them.
Unfortunately, periods aren’t a particularly pleasant topic to begin with. I mean, what is comforting about the thought of blood and tissue coming out of one’s vagina on a monthly basis? Exactly. That’s what it is too.
On another note, periods have been (unfortunately) stamped as a taboo. It’s largely stigmatised among many traditional communities and their varying superstitions. But newsflash! Periods are normal. They always have been. That’s why I’m here to address these myths and clear them up.
1. Using a tampon will take away your virginity
When you’re on your period, you’ve got three options: the pad, the cup or the tampon. For many traditional families, tampons are totally off-limits. Why? It’s because tampons are thought to break your hymen, which is often associated with one’s “purity”.
False. It will not.
If you thought your hymen was a wall that covered your whole vaginal opening, you’re wrong. The hymen is the tissue around the opening, and contrary to many assumptions, many people may be born without a hymen. Even if they did, it would be a small hymen.
2. You can’t get pregnant if you have sex on your period
For all the eager couples out there, I hate to break it to you…you actually can get pregnant while you’re on your period. The chances are slim, but yes, it’s still possible. This entirely has to do with the ovulation periods and the menstruation cycles. Typically, your ovaries will produce eggs 12-16 days before the next period, and at the same time, your menstruation cycle lasts for 28 days. But if a woman has an irregular period, a shorter cycle, or a longer period of bleeding, it would be tricky to predict when her window of fertility would be.
3. Exercise is bad on your period
Don’t worry, you can exercise on your period – but just don’t go overboard. According to healthline.com, there are various benefits to this; with lighter forms of exercise, cramps and other forms of period-related growing pains (e.g. headaches, back aches) can be alleviated, moods can be improved, and PMS (Premenstrual Syndrome) symptoms can be reduced. Plus, it could help with the general feeling of exhaustion when you’re on your period.
4. Periods stop whenever you’re in water
Very bold of you to assume that, but not really. Although your period won’t stop flowing, the water may slow it down for a while. In other words, the gravitational pull or the pressure of the water will help reduce the flow when you’re bathing or swimming. But at the same time, that doesn’t mean you can enjoy your pool party without worrying about leaking and ruining your swimsuit. Leaking is just as possible when you’re actively in or out of the water, so take the right precautions to avoid this.
Common myths surrounding STDs
Before diving straight into the myths, it’s best to know what STDs exactly are. Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are infections which can spread from one person to another, normally through – but not limited to – sexual intercourse (vaginal, anal, oral). STDs can be caused by bacteria (chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis), viruses (HIV, HPV, genital herpes, hepatitis B) and parasites (trichomoniasis).
The germs that cause these infections are concealed in blood, semen, vaginal secretions, and sometimes saliva. Due to the inveterate stigma surrounding STDs and how they are still considered as taboo, it isn’t a topic which is explicitly discussed.
With these key points in mind, let’s now take a look at some common myths surrounding STDs.
1. You would know if either you or your partner (or someone else for that matter) has an STD.
Chief Medical Officer of Planned Parenthood, Raegan McDonald-Moseley, however, said that isn’t necessarily the case. Some diseases such as chlamydia and herpes often have hidden symptoms or none at all, she said. The best, and most efficient way to know if one has an STD is through testing.
2. STDs can be contracted via toilets.
Some of us might have heard of this particular myth whilst we were growing up. However, McDonald-Moseley said, “There’s not a lot of good science or evidence about that.” Hence, it is therefore, unlikely.
3. Birth control protects you from infection.
While the contraceptive pill, patch or IUD, are effective ways of preventing any sort of unplanned or unwanted pregnancy, it’s sad to say they don’t prevent one from getting STDs. However, as per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), condoms act as a precautionary, physical barrier that can reduce (not eliminate) your chances of getting infected.
4. You won’t get STDs by having oral sex
It is less likely as compared to vaginal or anal, however, the imminent risk of getting infected is still ever present. Bacterial or viral STDs can penetrate via cuts or tears located within the mouth, anus or even the genitals. The best way to avoid this is through the usage of condoms and dental dams.
Common Myths That Malaysians Believe
Sexual health is often frowned upon as a topic of conversation in Malaysia and is deemed as a taboo. This societal perception has pushed many people into reluctance to delve into the aforementioned subject in fear of discreditation and ostracization. The silence revolving around sexual health has caused so many individuals, especially youths, to be misinformed and naively alluded to believe falsehoods that are circulated.
Researching about such matters can be a difficult step to take, especially if your knowledge regarding sexual health stems from socialization or hushed whispers. Hence, we have compiled several myths that are commonly believed by Malaysians and that you would have probably heard at least once in your life.
1. Only women can contract human papillomavirus (HPV).
Contrary to popular belief, both men and women can contract HPV. However, most men who contract this disease don’t show any symptoms and their infections disappear on their own. Although women have a higher rate of contracting HPV, statistics show that 25.7% of males manifest a prevalence to high-risk HPV.
2. HPV is a cancer.
HPV is not actually a cancer; it is a virus that usually causes harmless infections without any manifestations of symptoms. However, if the infection persists without any treatment, it can then develop into a cancer. The common cancers caused by HPV are cervical cancer, anogenital cancer, head cancer and neck cancers (WHO, 2018).
3. Conception is not possible during a woman’s menstruation or around her menstruation cycle.
Although the chances are low, the possibility of conceiving during menstruation is still open. This depends entirely on each individual’s cycle. For instance, if one were to have a shorter menstruation cycle, it is entirely possible that their fertile window would occur earlier, making the chances of pregnancy higher. As the successive days pass, these chances also progressively increase.
That’s A Wrap!
Well, there you have it! Now you have no excuse to avoid exercising when you’re on your period! Maybe now you’ll even give the tampon a try, without fearing it being ‘your first’. All jokes aside, we hope this article has helped relieve you of any worries or doubts you might’ve had about sexual health. If you’re still interested in learning more about the topic and hearing what others have to say about their experiences, doubts and questions on sexual health, be sure to keep an eye out for our ‘Sexual Health Awareness’ themed youtube video where our members help answer those questions in a casual scene and with a touch of humour!
This is just the beginning of Real-Talk, we’ll be here next month, and the next, and the next! with more topics to uncover, so be sure to stick around for more. Know a friend who’s got their facts wrong about sexual health? Share this article with them to help enlighten them! Together we’ll spread more awareness on ‘taboo’ topics and eventually hope to make them no longer a taboo (as they’re normal things that involve all of us every day!). Until next time, stay safe, stay real!
By Shay Azman, Natasha Effendy, Julia Rosalyn and Joey Yap