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Last Updated Wednesday May 24 2017 10:12 AM IST

Heal Thy Self | Sexual myths among teenagers

Nirmala Ferrao
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Sexual myths Most parents still don’t want to talk to their teenagers about sex. Photo: Getty Images

“Will French kissing make me pregnant?” “Will withdrawal before ejaculation prevent my getting pregnant?”

“Will wet dreams give me pimples?” “Will a sniff of cocaine take my sexual performance to the heights?”

Questions, questions... they abound in those perturbing pubescent years! And neither stretching your imagination nor asking your best friend may provide satisfying answers. Or even the correct ones. Most parents still don’t want to talk to their teenagers about sex (and most teenagers return the favour – their parents are the last persons they would talk to about sex). What about the Internet, that fount of uber knowledge? Sad but true – the Internet is chock full of errors and fouls.

As a result, teenagers – like people of other ages – continue to grope and fumble in cobwebbed confusion. A look at the most common sexual myths among teenagers and why it’s so important for them to know the “whole truths”.

Myth: Masturbation makes you weak, can lead to impotence, causes missed periods, and is a form of self-abuse which I need to stop

Sexual myths Photo: Getty Images

Probably no other form of sexual activity has been more frequently (or secretly) discussed among teenagers, more roundly condemned by their parents – and more universally practised by both generations.

Some teenagers – both, young boys and girls – attribute anything that goes wrong, from acne to fatigue, from split hair ends to feeling weak, to the fact that they masturbated, thus providing regular punishment for the enjoyment of a perfectly normal activity. Tuberculosis, erectile difficulties and homosexuality have also been laid at the door of “excessive masturbation.” Teenage girls fear it can cause them to stop menstruating, retard the development of breasts, make them infertile, rupture the hymen, or adversely affect their capacity for sexual enjoyment later in life. It’s almost as if masturbation comes with a statutory warning: “Indulging in masturbation can be injurious to your health.”

Sexologist Prakash Kothari, author of “Common Sexual Problems...Solutions”, answers the question, “Is masturbation harmful?” with a counter question: “Is coitus harmful? Then how can masturbation be harmful? Essentially, masturbation mimics coitus.”

One of the prime fears relating to masturbation centres around the “loss of semen” which is considered to be a precious, “vital” fluid, present in the body in limited amounts, and therefore needing to be conserved. The hoary myth that has been doing the rounds for aeons is encapsulated in the axiom, ”One drop of semen equals 40 drops of blood.” The dhat syndrome, or “semen-loss anxiety” is a culturally-perpetuated myth in India (though, historically, it has also been reported in the so-called developed countries). Indian historical texts describe the importance of semen in terms of this rationale: that it takes 40 days for 40 drops of food to be converted to 40 drops of blood, and thence onward, from blood to flesh to marrow and ultimately to semen. Thus, semen begins to take on a precious importance, and its “loss” through masturbation leads the misinformed to develop a syndrome that comprises vague symptoms of weakness, fatigue, loss of appetite, aches and pains, anxiety, fear and guilt.

The facts are rather different: Semen and blood are completely different bodily fluids, produced through different processes. Semen is manufactured by the body in order to be used, not to be “conserved” or hoarded. If it is not emitted through masturbation and / or intercourse, it will spill out during “wet dreams” (also called “nocturnal emissions”).

Sexual myths Semen and blood are completely different bodily fluids, produced through different processes. Photo: Getty Images

Also, you need not ration its use for fear that you will run short on the supply front. Just as the body produces saliva (another bodily fluid) without calling it a halt with age, so too can it go on producing semen – well into the 90’s, believe it or not (though, with the advancing years, there will be fewer living sperm in the fluid).

The bottom-line is that there is nothing abnormal or harmful about masturbation unless it becomes an obsession that interferes with normal daily functioning. What is abnormal is its unnatural suppression.

Myth: “Bigger is better”

How many jokes have we heard, and how much bragging there has been, centering around the “Size matters” dictum. But for large numbers of teenage boys, this is no laughing matter because they feel there’s nothing to brag about the size of their member. It’s no secret that male teenagers fixate on this much of the time. If they feel they do not measure up, they can become fraught with anxiety, sink into depression and, in extreme cases, even experience suicidal ideation. Some of them will buy fake products that promise to make them longer, stronger or wider.

Interestingly, the penis in the flaccid state is a poor predictor of its size at erection. Studies have found that there is no relation between the two. The better question is: Why is everyone palpitating over size? Though the popular media may suggest that women want bigger and wider, the results of research tell a different story and point to men being a lot more worried about penis size than women are. In terms of a woman’s enjoyment of sex, the majority of studies – beginning with Masters and Johnson, and replicated several times over -- have found that size is an irrelevant or a minor factor in women’s sexual pleasure. The main reason the researchers give is that the vagina is such an accommodating space that its walls grab the penis and conform to its size.

The overwhelming majority of women surveyed seem unbothered by penis size and are far more concerned with personality, intelligence and humour. And, in that minority of women who do give importance to size, it is not length but girth that seems to matter when it comes to pleasure during sex. Rather than penile size, it is factors like length of sexual intercourse and erectile function that play a much larger role in female pleasure.

Sexual myths Photo: Getty Images

Another important consideration: Vaginal orgasms in women are quite rare, with most women orgasming clitorally.

Studies show that, if you are well-endowed, chances are you’ll get a bit of a confidence boost but not much beyond that in terms of sexual performance.

So, teenagers should not buy into a myth that is probably part of a more global mythical belief, namely that bigger is better in just about everything from a burger to a flat. There are status points in buying a bigger house; but, whether that house is pleasant and comfy to live in is an entirely different matter. Ditto for the male member.

Myth: If your partner withdraws before he ejaculates, you won’t get pregnant.

The so-called withdrawal method is not a reliable method of contraception and does carry the risk of pregnancy. This is because it’s possible for a sexually excited man to release fluid from his penis even before ejaculation. This is known as pre-ejaculation fluid and, as it has sperm in it, it can lead to pregnancy.

Myth: You can’t get pregnant if you have sex during your period.

Many women think that they’re only fertile for a few days each month, and so they believe they can’t get pregnant during their period and through most of their menstrual cycle. There are two factors that make this a myth. Firstly, many women have irregular menstrual cycles, so it can be very hard to know for sure whether ovulation (the release of an egg) has taken place. Secondly, sperm can actually live in the body for up to 7 days, so they can be hanging around for quite a long while, ready and waiting to fertilise an egg.

Myth: Stimulants like alcohol and drugs can enhance sexual pleasure.

There is no question that a sizeable chunk of the teenage population is drinking alcohol and, to a lesser extent, taking drugs as part of deliberate sexual strategy – i.e., to get sex, to enhance sexual arousal and to prolong sex. It is intentional: young people often see alcohol, drugs and sex as all part of the same social experience.

In small amounts, alcohol does help to reduce inhibitions and anxiety and thus heightens sexual arousal. But, in larger doses, because of its lulling effect on the nervous system, alcohol decreases the sensitivity of the sexual organs and, later, the capacity to maintain an erection.

Street drugs have similarly dubious effects on sexual capabilities. Chronic cocaine use can impair sexual function in both sexes. In males, cocaine can cause delayed or impaired ejaculation.

Beer In small amounts, alcohol does help to reduce inhibitions and anxiety and thus heightens sexual arousal. Photo: Getty Images

New research has overturned previous thinking that the body recovers from alcohol and drug use in a matter of weeks. Males are likely to have performance issues in the bedroom years after they’ve stopped taking street drugs. Alcohol has been found to be the worst offender for erectile dysfunction.

There are other consequences, research finds: Recreational drug use and binge-drinking impacts the way that teens make sexual decisions: they are more likely to have multiple partners, to have unsafe sex (without using a condom, increasing the risk of pregnancy and of STDs) and to have later regrets about having had sex under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

As for those “sexual supplements” that choke the Web and promise unimaginable miracles and of course prolonged ecstasy, beware of popping pills indiscriminately. Not only is the efficacy of these supplements in doubt, they could actually have dangerous consequences. Since they are not regulated, it is highly debatable if any of them have been tested for safety and effectiveness. Even your doctor will not be able to advise you on whether they are safe to use because nobody knows what their precise ingredients are.

When you come right down to it, teen hormones, sex and drugs can be a volatile and dangerous mix.

(The author is a former editor of 'Health & Nutrition' magazine, and now works as a counseling therapist)

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