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Interview by Meklit Gebre-Mariam,16, University HS
and Yulin Qin,17, Santa Monica College

My friend Yulin and I went to Planned Parenthood because we wanted to talk to someone who could answer our questions. We interviewed Diane Medsker, who goes to schools educating teens about sexual health. Before the interview we asked our classmates to write down their most embarrassing sex questions. We hope these answers help teens become more informed so they know how to protect themselves.

LA.. Youth: What are common questions you get when you talk to teens?
Diane Medsker, Planned Parenthood: There are lots of myths around pregnancy. Can a female get pregnant the first time? Yes. For some reason, that’s a universal myth that the first time is safe. It’s not. If there’s sperm and an egg present, pregnancy is possible.

Are there physical changes after having sex?
No. The underlying question is, “Is anyone going to know?” or “Can somebody tell if I’ve had sex?” The answer is no.

What’s the common age to lose virginity?
That’s a term I’m not really comfortable with. There are so many different definitions of virginity. A lot of young people might say “I’m a virgin” and may only equate virginity with vaginal sex. So they may not realize if they’re engaging in oral sex or anal sex, they’re still at risk for STDs. Now you’re talking about at what age do people begin to explore sexually. I don’t know if I can answer that exactly. I can say that by the 12th grade, about 70 percent of teens have had vaginal sex.

Can you get pregnant if you have sex under water?
Yes. This is a really common question. There are two parts to this question. One of the questions we get a lot is if people are in a pool and the male ejaculates, will the semen travel through the pool to find a female body and that answer is no. But if a male and female are having vaginal sex in a pool, the water isn’t going to have any affect on the ability of the sperm to swim up inside the cervix into the uterus [which can still lead to pregnancy].

Is it OK to have sex while on your period?
The most important thing to know is that it’s not necessarily a safe time to have unprotected sex. I know that’s a myth that a lot of young people believe. Sperm can live in the body from three to five days; it’s possible that if somebody had a long period that was six or seven days and they had unprotected sex during that last day of that period [they could get pregnant]. Sperm could live in the body for up to five days and ovulation might take place then. It’s not a safe time. Even if she’s not worried about pregnancy, you can still transmit STDs if the person isn’t using a condom.
Why are condoms only 98 percent effective?
A lot of times we say how important it is to use a condom, but we don’t really explain how to use a condom correctly. There are some steps that are really important that are sometimes missed. And they also need to be used consistently every single time. So I think there are times when there’s a user error or sometimes people don’t check the expiration date. There’s a myth that using two condoms at once is better, but that’s not actually the case. That can sometimes cause more friction [which can cause a condom to break]. Making sure to have a couple of condoms, in case one of them is expired, there’s a backup right there.

What’s the most common STD?
I don’t know what the most common STD is for men. Herpes is a very common one in both. For females, for bacterial infections, the most common are chlamydia and gonorrhea. For viruses, HPV and herpes are the most common. Chlamydia and gonorrhea, because they’re bacterial, they’re really easy to cure. It’s a simple urine test, so a person pees in a cup. It’s sent to a lab, if it comes back positive, then the person gets a dose of antibiotics and the infection is gone. But for females, 75 percent of the time for chlamydia, there are no symptoms. Unless a person gets tested they may not have any idea they have the infection. The Centers for Disease Control  and Prevention (CDC) is saying over 50 percent of infertility in the U.S. is due to untreated chlamydia and gonorrhea infections. So, it can have pretty significant health consequences if left untreated.
     We recommend that once anybody becomes sexually active, that they ask for an STD screening every six months. The CDC recommends once a year.

Are girls or guys more likely to get a sexually transmitted disease and why?
Both girls and guys are likely to get STDs and the reasons for that are varied. There is a really high rate of STDs among teens between the ages of 14-19. Partly because they’re very contagious. A lot of times they have no symptoms. Unfortunately, girls are more easily infected than guys are because female anatomy is internal and that’s the environment, which is moist and dark, where bacteria really thrive. Also, if there are symptoms, they tend to be very mild and they’re hard to see or feel until that infection has traveled inside the body and caused some significant health consequences. Guys’ external anatomy is surrounded by air, by light; if there are symptoms, they are more easily seen [but not all STDs have visible symptoms].

Can you get an STD from anal or oral sex?
Anybody can get an STD from anal, oral or vaginal sex—males and females.

Do you need your parents’ permission to get tested for an STD or pregnancy?
No. The state of California is really clear. This law has been on the books since 1953, that a minor may legally access reproductive health care services and it must be kept confidential. Now, with that said, we always encourage teens to talk to their parents. We feel really strongly about parent-child communication. However, we do know there are some families where that doesn’t take place. In that case we recommend talking through really important decisions with a trusted adult.

Where does confidentiality end? Even if you get treated for it, do you have to talk to the parents?
No. Any reproductive health care services, including abortions, their parents are not notified without their consent. Anything regarding a significant health issue or an unplanned pregnancy, we do have a staff and counselors that are trained to help a person talk through their options and provide information, follow-up with an appointment to get more information about prenatal care, adoption services referral or termination information.

Is sex painful?
Sex shouldn’t be painful although for some people, particularly the first time, it can be painful. It’s important for people to be ready to have sex, to have a conversation ahead of time about readiness and contraception and trust and the things that might make a person anxious about having sex. If it’s a painful experience what might help is for the people involved to talk to each other, to slow down a little bit. Use lubrication if that helps the body to be more prepared. A lot of the concern about pain might have to do with anxiety, not communicating, [and] moving too quickly. Because it really does take time for the body to become aroused and warmed up and for female lubrication to take place.
Is it healthy to masturbate?
I’d say it’s a pretty normal behavior. Many people do masturbate. Not everybody masturbates, but what I like to say is that masturbating is without physical consequences. You don’t run the risk of pregnancy or the risk of transmitting viruses or bacteria. It’s a safe way to express oneself in terms of sexual pleasure.
Is the morning-after pill safe?
The morning-after pill is emergency contraception, the brand name is Plan B it, is for emergencies only. It’s a high dose of hormones and it’s not a pill or medicine that will end or terminate a pregnancy. So if a young woman is already pregnant and doesn’t know it and takes the emergency contraception, it won’t affect that pregnancy at all. What it will do, it will prevent ovulation from taking place. If she’s not pregnant she’s not going to ovulate so therefore, there’s no egg to come down and meet the sperm that is present in the body. The side effects are generally pretty mild, a little nausea, a little dizziness, light-headedness, sometimes vomiting, but rarely. It will alter a girl’s [monthly] cycle, because of the dose of hormones. It’s not dangerous, but again we want to emphasize that it’s only for emergencies. There’s no prevention for sexually transmitted infections. It has about a 75 percent rate of effectiveness. It’s best if taken within three days, but it can be taken up to five days. The sooner it’s taken, the more effective it is.
What are some STDs that are transmitted orally?
Genital herpes can be transmitted through oral sex. Typically on the spectrum oral sex is less likely to transmit [STDs], but there have been cases of gonorrhea in the throat, HPV in the throat, herpes, chlamydia sometimes, but it’s a more difficult pathway than through penis to vagina or penis to anus. And some STDs can be transmitted, unfortunately through genital to genital rubbing with no clothes on, herpes for instance and HPV—so there doesn’t even need to be intercourse. And that can between male-female, female-female, male-male.