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19 Common Myths Sexual Health Nurses Want You To Stop Believing

Nope, you can't get rid of crabs by shaving your pubes. Sorry.

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This post was put together with the help of a sexual health nurse based at an NHS genitourinary medicine clinic in central London.

2. The cold sore virus can spread to the genitals.


Cold sores on the mouth or face are caused by a virus called HSV-1, while HSV-2 is more usually associated with genital herpes. But people often don't realise that some cases of genital herpes are actually caused by HSV-1. TL;DR: Don't give oral sex when you've got a cold sore, or if you do, use a dental dam or condom.

3. No, most STIs won't go away on their own like a cold.


A lot of people think it'll "just clear up on its own", but that's not the case. Your immune system can't take on, say, chlamydia and cure it all by itself, but if chlamydia detected early enough, it can be treated with antibiotics, like many STIs.

Not to mention, it's common to have no symptoms at all – so even if you feel fine or symptoms go away, you could still have the STI (and transmit it to others) until you get treated.


4. Syphilis isn't an old-timey illness – it's a current problem. / Creative Commons

According to a paper published in the British Medical Journal earlier this year, the number of newly diagnosed cases of syphilis (which causes sores, lesions, vision problems, and eventual death if left untreated) nearly doubled between 2012 to 2016, hitting the highest levels since 1949. But people often think it's been eradicated.

5. And it can be fatal if left untreated.

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The good news is that it's rare for syphilis to get to such a late stage these days. But if syphilis doesn't get treated, it stays in your body and gradually gets worse. In the final stage of syphilis (20-40 years after infection), necrotic growths called "gummas" form on bones and in organs, and essentially eat away at your body and features.

6. Yes, you can get an STI from oral sex.

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Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but gonorrhoea, chlamydia, and herpes can all be passed on this way. It's best to use a condom or dental dam if you're going down town on a new partner, or alternatively, both get tested before you do.

7. Condoms rule, but they don't protect against all STIs.

BBC / Giphy

Crabs, herpes, HPV, and also syphilis (sorry) are just four STIs that condoms don't fully protect you against because they spread by skin-to-skin contact.

Not to mention that condoms can fail, putting you at risk of contracting other STIs spread by bodily fluids. So if you're sexually active, guess what? Yep, you should get regular checks at your local clinic.


8. Shaving off your pubes won't get rid of crabs. / Creative Commons

These clingy little dudes can live anywhere where you have body hair. So they can just relocate to your beard, eyelashes, legs, or armpits. You can treat them with insecticide cream, lotion, or shampoo from your GP or pharmacist.

9. They're not harmless, either.

FOX / Giphy

If left untreated, pubic lice can cause skin infections, scaling, and scarring of the infected area. Also, your pubes will eventually become matted with their waste and smell foul, and you could end up with infected blisters in your nether regions.

10. You can catch some STIs from hand jobs or fingering.

Although it's not common, you can transmit some STDs through fingering and hand jobs. Trichomoniasis is caused by a tiny parasite called trichomonas vaginalis, and can be spread by hand-to-genital contact, or by sharing an unwashed sex toy. And if you have any open wounds or cuts on the hands and fingers, this can increase the risk of transmission of blood-borne pathogens. In any case, you can wear latex gloves for safer sex.

11. You can get STIs from dry-humping and grinding too.


But only if you're both naked and your genitals come into contact. So if you're going to bump, hump, and grind, either wear clothing, or use protection.


12. But, on the whole, you can't catch STIs from handshakes and hugging.

Paramount Pictures / Giphy

Or similar activities, like sharing a mug, utensils, or a toilet seat. The microorganisms that cause STIs like chlamydia or herpes can’t survive outside the human body for very long. So it's safe to share towels, hold hands, and use the toilet. Phew!

13. It's possible to contract HIV from a tattoo gun.


When you get a tattoo, ink is injected into your skin with a tattoo gun with a needle on the tip. Licensed tattoo artists follow safe procedures, but "tattoo parties" run by amateurs with home tattooing kits are increasingly popular – and could expose you to HIV, hepatitis C, and other blood-borne diseases.

14. But remember: HIV isn't anything to be ashamed of, and it isn't a death sentence.

BBC / Giphy

HIV, if properly treated, can become a manageable (albeit lifelong) disease. Medication can reduce viral load to undetectable levels, making it impossible for someone who is HIV+ to pass the disease to an HIV- partner.

15. The HPV vaccine doesn't protect you against every single form of HPV – but it's still very much worth having. / Creative Commons

Pretty much all of all cervical cancers are caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV). The HPV vaccination protects you against two types of HPV that together are responsible for 70% of cancer-causing HPV infections, and two others that are responsible for 90% of genital warts cases. But it's important to still attend regular smear tests, even if you've had the vaccine.


16. But if you are diagnosed with HPV, please don't panic! It doesn't mean you'll get cervical cancer.


Yes, 99.7% of all cervical cancers are caused by HPV, but that doesn't mean everyone who gets HPV will develop cancer. There are over 100 types of HPV and the majority aren't high-risk, and even high-risk cases don't always cause abnormalities. Just make sure you attend your smear test when invited.

17. People think they've heard of every STI. / BuzzFeed

But unless you're a professional, you probably haven't. Lesser-known STIs include molluscum contagiosum, which causes wartlike growths; chancroid, which causes swollen, open sores on the genitals; and cytomegalovirus, aka CMV. We're the experts, so come to see us instead of googling your symptoms.

18. You can still get pregnant while you're on the pill.

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The good news is that birth control pills are 99% effective if you use them “perfectly”, i.e. taking them at the same time every day without fail. Most women aren't magic pill-taking robots, however, meaning they fall to around 91% effective with "typical use". And don't forget, you still need to be using condoms too to protect against STIs, unless you've both been tested and given a clean bill of health.

19. And you can get pregnant if you're on your period.

Lifetime / Giphy

Sperm are confident, spunky little guys who can survive inside you for up to five days. Meaning that if you have sex towards the end of your period, you could potentially conceive four days later if you ovulate early. It's not hugely likely, but it's a possibility, so you should wrap it up even if you're having period sex. Sorry!

For more information and to find your local sexual health clinic, see the NHS website, or speak to your GP.

Hilary Mitchell is the Scotland editor for BuzzFeed and is based in Edinburgh.

Contact Hilary Mitchell at

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