Teens and Sex

New facts reveal that teens are having more sex and fewer babies and abortions. But no one is sure why. Just last year, a typically depressing analysis of national teen pregnancy in the authoritative Journal of the American Medical Association began with this summary: "Pregnancy and birth rates among teenage girls are the highest of any developing country and it appears likely that the trend will continue." So what else is new? With images of 10th-grade welfare mothers in our minds, we all think we know that the "epidemic" of babies having babies is out of control, one of the most telling signs of our country's moral decline.It would seem to make perfect sense that the problem is finally receiving attention at the highest levels of government. Over the past year, President Clinton spurred the formation of a nonprofit group called the National Campaign to Reduce Teen Pregnancy, sent onetime surgeon general nominee Dr. Henry Foster around the country speaking on the issue, and worked with Congress to fund a slew of mainly abstinence-based pregnancy-prevention programs. A figure commonly cited in recent years is that approximately 1 million teen pregnancies occur every year. With numbers like that, who could really argue with a growing popular belief that sex education has failed?Possibly anyone who has seen the most recent statistics. A close look reveals that much of what adults believe about teen fertility and sex is wrong. Teen pregnancy and birth rates are falling, as are teen abortion rates. The nation's youth are having sex later than is commonly thought. And when they do go all the way, they are increasingly using birth control, using it better in fact than young adults. While the nation's heavyweights are painting a picture of a generation in crisis, the sexual trends among teens are actually more encouraging than they've been in a long time. Surely one of the most surprising advances is that teens are having fewer babies than they used to. According to just-released figures from the federal National Center for Health Statistics, the birth rate for 15- to 19-year-olds dropped 8 percent between 1991 and 1995, to just under 57 births per 1,000 young women. While the decrease is modest, it signals a decisive change in direction. Until 1991, the rate had been climbing straight up for more than a decade. "Anybody who has been involved in teen pregnancy for more than a few years is cautiously optimistic," says Beth Frederick, a spokesperson for the New YorkÜbased nonprofit group the Alan Guttmacher Institute, one of the nation's foremost authorities on reproductive health. The progress has been pronounced enough for the president to start taking credit for it. In a radio address earlier this month, Clinton boasted: "What we're doing to prevent teen pregnancy as a nation is an example of how we can master many of the challenges of our time."And the news is even better for black teens. Though their 1995 birth rate is almost twice as high as that of teens in general, at 95.5 births per 1,000 women, it represents a hefty 17 percent decrease from four years prior. "Somebody must be praying," says the Rev. Jamal-Bryant Harrison, national youth and college direction for the NAACP.Yet, looking at the birth rate alone, as social commentators often do, only reveals part of what's happening with teen pregnancy. Birth and pregnancy rates aren't the same thing, of course, because many pregnant girls, like their older counterparts, choose to have abortions. But if the birth rate is going down, is the abortion rate going up?As for pregnancy itself, the county rate among adolescents has dropped 21 percent since 1988, reaching its lowest point since 1980. It's a sign of considerably more progress than the narrow focus on the birth rate has led us to believe. Statisticians are loathe to speculate, but they allow that local figures may indicate a national trend as yet unreported because national data on teen pregnancies is dated.Yet, nobody seemed to be celebrating the good news, or even talking about it, until Clinton judged he could use it to his advantage. Surely, in part, that's due to rhetorical convenience. "Slouching toward responsible sex" doesn't have quite the same ring to it as Slouching Towards Gomorrah, Robert Bork's fire-and-brimstone rant against our sinful ways.Conservatives would lose a major ideological theme if they couldn't rail against teen pregnancy, not to mention abortion. Kenneth vander Hoef, president of the Redmond-based anti-abortion group Human Life of Washington, says flat out that he "wouldn't buy the figures" showing a decline in teen abortions by every measure�in the sheer number of abortions, in the rate, and in the proportion of pregnant teens having abortions�though he has no evidence to the contrary.At the same time, those who work on pregnancy prevention might jeopardize their funding if they made too much of recent advances. "The problem with claiming a victory is that then people think the problem is solved," says the Alan Guttmacher Institute's Beth Frederick.It isn't. The most recent teen birth rate of 57 per 1,000 girls still looks dismal when compared with the rates of other developed nations, which in the early '90s ranged from four births per 1,000 girls in Japan to 32 births per 1,000 girls in Great Britain births. "We have a long way to go," says Tamara Kreinin, a spokesperson for the new National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. National data shows that an overwhelming 80 percent of teens who have babies are poor or low-income, while nearly three-quarters of affluent young women who become accidentally pregnant have abortions. This class discrepancy leads University of California at Berkeley sociologist Kristin Luker, author of Dubious Conceptions: The Politics of Teen Pregnancy, to argue that recent indignation over teen pregnancy is infused with a strong element of poor bashing. "It used to be up through the '70s that everybody had babies when they were teenagers or soon after. What's happened is that poor women are still having babies as teenagers while the rich have started delaying their babies. As affluent people change, they beat up on poor people who are doing what mainstream America had always done."Indeed, you'd never know it from the ravings of moral crusaders that the teen birth rate, even at its recent peak in 1991, was still a third lower than in the pre- sexual-revolution year of 1960, which stood at just over 89 births per 1,000 girls. But it's also true that there has been a big change from that time. The vast majority of teen moms in 1960 were married; in 1994, only a quarter were."The entire change we've had has been the male presence," says Charlie Langdon, executive director of a local non-profit group called Advancing Solutions to Adolescent Pregnancy (until recently known as the Washington Alliance Concerned with School Age Parents). According to Langdon, a minuscule number of fathers in such births financially support their children on an ongoing basis. This abandonment of responsibility, he says, is all the more appalling given that the majority of men who father babies with teenagers are over the age of 25, according to a recent study his organization conducted of 535 pregnant teens around the state. Naturally, such a focus on unwed births suits the new moralists, who want to bring back a stigma on out-of-wedlock sex and births, as well as many fiscal conservatives who blame high welfare costs on unwed moms. Hence was born an unusual new initiative from the federal government, part of last year's welfare reform package, that offers $100 million in bonuses to the five states that can most reduce their out-of-wedlock birth rates while also reducing their abortion rates.Aside from our relatively poor standing compared to other countries, and the vanishing participation of fathers, another factor has dampened excitement. In 1995, the Institute of Medicine in Washington, DC, issued a report called The Best Intentions, which declared that a startling 60 percent of all pregnancies were unintended.Mind you, that's all pregnancies, not just those among teens or single women; among married women alone, it said, as many as 40 percent of pregnancies were unintended. The report warned: "The nation's continuing focus on teenage pregnancy might well be missing a larger issue: that adults too, not just teenagers, are having difficulty in preventing and planning pregnancy."On top of it all, teens are particularly vulnerable to sexually transmitted diseases, at least in part because adolescent girls have fewer protective antibodies, and their cervixes are still developing. Sexually active 15- to 19-year-olds, both boys and girls, have a higher rate of gonorrhea than any other five-year group of adults between 20 and 44.But whatever the work still ahead, there has been success, and it's natural to wonder why. The truth is, nobody knows."We just don't have good answers," sighs the local health department's Caren Adams. "In the political climate that we have, doing surveys that would help answer that question is hard to do." But demographers have never pretended to have a good understanding of behavior as sensitive and private as fertility. "We make up stories after the fact," says Jane Mauldon, a Berkeley public policy professor. One such story that rings true for everybody is that feminism sent the birth rate among both teens and adults downward in the early '70s�and the abortion rate upwards�neither of which turned around until the mid-'80s.About the only truism in that story is that teen birth, pregnancy, and abortion rates almost always mirror those of adults. And the same is true today. But Mike Greenwell, a spokesperson for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, contends that statistics for adult women may be affected by a unique circumstance: The population is aging, so that there is a smaller proportion of women in their prime child-bearing years.Moreover, in response to increases in teen births during the '80s, as well as the advent of AIDS, there has arisen a groundswell of pregnancy prevention and safe sex programs for teens. Increasingly, such programs stress abstinence, as exemplified by a rally earlier this year in Duvall put on by a national organization called True Love Waits. There, girls pledged to protect what they called their most cherished gift, their virginity, and vendors sold gold chastity rings. Meanwhile, others stress education about and access to contraception. The state now mandates that all high schools have several hours of AIDS education a year, which generally discusses condom use. Eastside schools have been more conservative than Seattle's in that they don't make contraception available. Since 1993, Seattle has put health clinics distributing contraception into eight high schools, and outfitted all high schools with condom vending machines.At Lake Washington High School in Kirkland, (Wash.) juniors spend more than a month studying sex education in their health classes, including a day a piece on abstinence and birth control as well as an additional day solely on condoms as part of HIV education. In one such class, guest lecturer Gail Stringer, a Planned Parenthood educator known for her casual style, immediately sets a frank tone."Should you be doing the intercourse thing?" she asks cheerfully. "No," murmurs a chorus of voices. Stringer nods approvingly. She says, "There are 800 other things you can do without doing the one thing that's going to give you a baby. But some people just got to do the intercourse thing. So, what are the choices for a guy?" "Va-sec-to-my," answers a guy in the back, drawing out the word for effect. "Are a lot of guys doing that?" she asks."Oh yeah," the guy says."Snip that lil' hummer," she quips. She then proceeds to discuss the various other methods of birth control at a breakneck pace, spending about five minutes a piece on male condoms, female condoms, pills, diaphragms, sponges, spermicide, Norplant, Depo-Provera, the IUD. She has to be quick if she's going to cover it all in a day.Each time Stringer gets to a new method of contraception, she reaches into a metal chest and takes out a sample. She squeezes the sides of a diaphragm together to show its flexibility. She pushes her hand against the outside of a female condom to show how guys sometimes, shall we say, miss the mark. She takes care to explain that a prescription for the Pill requires a pelvic exam, which she knows scares many teens off. Today, she has a sophomore named Meghan on hand, who explains to the class about the dangers of douching. Meghan is part of an Eastside teen council formed in 1987 by Planned Parenthood community educator Milly Mullarky. Council members not only help teach such classes, but often informally distribute information and condoms to their peers.Reflecting later on her day in health classes, Meghan says, "The thing that surprised me the most was that the ones asking questions were the guys. A lot of guy friends came up to me to ask, 'What's best for her?'" Meghan concludes, "It's not just the girls anymore" who want to know about birth control. Mullarky explains that she started the council to keep up with the differing subcultures at Eastside schools. Teens tell her that at Eastgate High, for example, girls worry too much about their reputations to talk about sex. At Bellevue High, they say, you can get made fun of for being thought a virgin. Overall, though, Mullarky says she has noticed a distinct change in the 16 years she has been teaching sex education on the Eastside. She says teens are both more knowledgeable about sex, and more willing to say they're abstaining from it."They never used to say that, it was embarrassing," Mullarky says. "Now they not only tell me that, but they're pleased about it."In fact, contrary to the assumptions of peers, many of the mainly female teen council proclaim themselves abstinent, albeit in a self-conscious way that makes certain assumptions about the options open to them. Probably few teens 20 years ago would have dreamed of calling themselves abstinent, even though they were.Christian conservative leaders like Jeff Kemp, the former Seahawks quarterback who now heads a Bellevue think tank called the Washington Family Council, would like to think a move toward abstinence is responsible for the decline in teen pregnancy. "There's finally been a swing back to the realization that you do have a choice, you don't have to be sexually active," he says.But while kids who are abstinent may feel freer to say so, statistics do not back up the theory that there are any more of them around. The number of sexually active kids has remained the same in recent years; the news is that the rate has stopped increasing. This leveling off, however, does not explain an actual decrease in the pregnancy rate.The one exception may be among blacks. A 1995 health survey of Seattle high school students showed a 12 percent decrease from the prior two years in the number of black males who reported ever having sex, which may help explain why the drop in the black teen birth rate has been so dramatic.For kids in general, however, the most significant change in behavior has been in their use of contraception. During the '80s, the number of teen girls who used contraception the first time they had sex rose from 48 percent to 65 percent, "almost entirely because of a doubling of condom use," according to the Alan Guttmacher Institute. At least 70 percent of teen girls use birth control on an ongoing basis. In fact, teens have a lower rate of unintended pregnancy than do single women in their early twenties. "Everyone has this myth that teens are out there having careless love," says Kristin Luker, the Berkeley sociologist. "No one in America wants to believe this, but teens are using more contraception, they're using it sooner, and they're using it better�and the finger is pointing to sex education." Most studies say that sex education does make some difference in whether teens use birth control, but probably not enough of one to account for the substantial increase in their use. One cannot help but think that the specter of AIDS, and the resulting push to use condoms, has affected teens as deeply as it had the rest of the population.If adults tend to exaggerate the irresponsibility of teen sex, they also tend to believe that kids have sex earlier than they really do. Sex and America's Teenagers, a 1994 report by the Alan Guttmacher Institute that is the most comprehensive look at the subject to date, elaborates on this point. According to the report, a recent survey of adults found that 25 percent believed that the average American has sex before age 14, while 62 percent thought the average age was before 16. In fact, although teens are having sex more than they used to, the majority don't report having had sex until they are 17, and even then a sizable 41 percent have not yet had sex. It's true that by 19, 82 percent have. Still, there is a difference between having had sex and being sexually active. When the Seattle schools survey asked students if they had had sex in the last three months, even the majority of seniors said no.There is a noticeable difference between girls and boys in this regard. Boys are almost exactly a year ahead of girls on a curve charting sexual activity; a decisive majority of girls don't report having had sex until they are 18. Not surprisingly, a lingering double standard seems to make boys feel more comfortable about having sex than girls. "Being called a slut is an issue girls want to talk about really urgently lately," says Berkeley author Peggy Orenstein, who writes often about teenage girls.Nevertheless, in historical terms, what is striking is that the gap in sexual behavior is narrowing between girls and boys, as it is between girls of varying social backgrounds. Approximately 50 percent to 60 percent of teen girls report having had sex no matter what their race, religion, income, or proximity to a city�with blacks, the poor, and Protestants falling on the higher end of that spectrum. In the late 1950s, two-thirds as many black teen girls had sex as white.Back at the meeting of the Eastside teen council, the girls are rattling off tidbits they overhear about sex in the girls' bathrooms at school: How can I get birth control pills when my mom will go ballistic if she knows? We've been going out forever, should we go ahead and do it? We had sex over the weekend, and now I'm not sure if we're still going out. All sound like very old dilemmas. Ah, but what's new, interjects coordinator Milly Mullarkey, is having that conversation in the bathroom.Maybe Mullarky is right, and there is a new openness about having sex, as well as about not having sex, an openness that makes it easier for teens to protect themselves against pregnancy. Like most societal changes, there's probably no single reason for the advances that have been made. But as one national expert on teen fertility remarks, "It's a nice puzzle to try to figure out." SIDEBAR 1Have 'em Young: The Case for Parenthood at an Early Age Robert Myers One of the odder pleasures I receive in meeting new people is the expression on their faces when they find out how old my children are. Polite interest turns to an almost shocked wonderment when they find out my son and daughter are 20 and 14. The usual reaction is a simple "Wow," followed by a question I could almost recite along with them, it's become so common: "But how old are you?" "We started young," I politely reply to this momentary breach of civility, and then turn the conversation back to whatever subject brought up the incidental information that I have children to begin with.It's a sign of how accepted it has become in American society to delay having children that people are actually shocked that a man under 40 (barely) could have a 20-year-old son. When I tell people stories about my kids, and the experience of having them so young, they look at me with the rapt attention, and lack of true understanding, of someone hearing an exciting tale of daring and adventure in some tropical jungle, or maybe the Antarctic.To most well-to-do, well-educated people in their twenties, the idea of having children is as foreign as, say, climbing Mount Everest. It sounds exciting, but they would never consider doing it themselves. Not without a lot of preparation, anyway.There are plenty of sound, reasonable, logical reasons for not starting a family until one is out of theie twenties, but none of them are particularly good reasons, and many of them show an unsettling lack of understanding about what children are, what they do, and what, beyond the basic issue of species propagation, we have them for.Whenever people talk about waiting to have children, there are usually four basic arguments: They want to wait until their life is more settled and stable, especially in terms of their profession or career; they want to be more financially secure; they worry they may not be mature enough to handle raising children; and, finally, they want to make sure that they are fully prepared to care for a child.I want to deal with each of these arguments individually, in reverse, and in a totally unsound, unreasonable, and illogical way. Because, let me assure you, even if I didn't tell you, your children, whenever they arrive, will. And they won't be so pleasant about it.Argument 1: "We want to wait until we're fully prepared." Fully prepared for what? Believe me, whatever it is you may be expecting, you're wrong. Nothing you can be told, nothing you can read, nothing you can be taught, nothing that you remember of your own childhood, nothing that you personally witness can prepare you for the experience of childbirth and child rearing.It's like reading a set of instructions on how to wrestle an octopus�it all makes sense in your head, but doesn't quite capture the actual experience. Children, by the way, are worse than octopi, because they actually have more than eight appendages�it's just that you can only see four of them at any one time. You will never be fully prepared. Get over it.Argument 2: "We may not be mature enough to raise a child properly." And if you don't have kids, you never will be. Maturity is the result of experience plus consideration. If you don't have the experience, you'll never have anything to consider.Children cause you to mature in two ways. First, of course, the sudden shock of responsibility�a responsibility that keeps you up all night, beats on the dog, and gleefully cracks a dozen grade-A jumbos into a frying pan on the living room carpet while proudly proclaiming, "I make eggs!" Nothing cures a Peter Pan syndrome or a Cinderella complex faster than having a real Peter Pan or Cinderella running around the house. Second, and this is one of the most fascinating processes that take place in child rearing, you mature through your children. Watching them jump the same hurdles you did, face the same problems, make the same mistakes, allows you, in a way, to vicariously relive your own life from a different perspective. Things about your own life that seemed unclear may suddenly jump into high relief when you see your child dealing with the same situation. And that new knowledge can then be passed on to our children to make their passage, if not easier (we all have to go through these things alone and in our own way, after all), a little more tolerable.Argument 3: "We want to wait until we're more financially secure." This is probably the hardest argument to counter, because, after all, who wouldn't want to be a little better off before taking on a project as large as having a child? Every year somebody publicizes some enormous sum as the current cost of raising a child from birth through undergraduate degree, and every year the number soars higher.Don't let it scare you. It's like buying a house: You don't have to pay it all at once. And remember, although raising a child is a far better investment than buying a house, the returns are not financial: How much money you put in is not an indicator of what you'll get out. My wife and I have never been rich. We've rarely even been what the money experts call "financially secure." In fact, now that both our kids work (my daughter only occasionally, of course), they often have more cash on hand than we do. But if that's had any effect on their welfare or well-being, I've never seen any sign of it. It may even be good for them. Nothing gives a child a quicker sense of maturity, responsibility, and place than loaning their parents money.Argument 4: "We want to wait until we're more settled in our careers." Why, so you'll have more to unsettle when the children come along? A child, any child, is going to spend a good deal of its time reaching into your head, your heart, and your bowels, squeezing and twisting your well-tempered and settled insides as if they were so much Play-Doh.Do you really expect to be able to maintain whatever pace at work got you into the exalted position where you felt secure enough to have children in the first place? Has it occurred to you that children might help you in your career, if only by giving you a much-needed dose of reality every time you come home? There are two things to remember: One, the kid doesn't care; two, you shouldn't either.If you are more concerned about advancing your career than having children, then don't have children. That's not a put-down; I have nothing but respect for those who forgo creating a family in order to devote their full energies to important and worthwhile work. If you're a personal injury lawyer, however, I'd go for the family. There is, of course, a fifth, thoroughly selfish, and thus unspoken, reason why people put off having children: They want to have their fun first. But really, how much fun can you have if you're unsettled, unprepared, immature, and financially insecure? Come the millennium, when my daughter turns 18, I'll only be 42, leaving me more than enough time and energy to take in anything I may have missed in the last 20 years.What's more, I'll be smart enough to know exactly where I want to go, wise enough to recognize what can be missed without loss, and mature enough to appreciate it all for all the right reasons. Meanwhile, all of those people who waited until their midthirties to have children will still be dealing with grade-schoolers. By the time the kids graduate from college, they'll have to rush out and get good jobs so they can afford to keep mom and dad in the home.Which brings me to a more serious point about delaying children: the loss of generational experience. Let's face it: the nuclear family, for all its advantages as an easily transportable and compact unit, is a psychological and emotional disaster. The breadth and depth of emotional experience necessary for a child to draw on in order to become a fully flexible, functioning adult simply can't be provided by mom and dad and a couple of siblings. There need to be aunts and uncles, cousins and second cousins, in-laws and all sorts to provide the wide spectrum of personal experience necessary to make intelligent and informed (if unconscious) life choices while growing up. Most of all, there need to be grandparents. I remember my grandparents, and my great-grandparents, very well (as well as all my aunts and uncles and cousins and in-laws, few of whom ever moved from the city in which they were born). And I believe there is some immeasurable positive force in the fact that my kids know their grandparents so well, especially my father-in-law, who is a whole damn world unto himself.If you wait until you are, say, 35, to have children, and your children do the same, there is a very good possibility you will never see your own grandchildren. Perhaps in a world without grandparents people would adjust to that. I never could.Writing the above, I suddenly remembered something I had seen just a short while ago. At a friend's wedding reception, the bride's mother led the entire assembly in a sing-along of what she said had been her daughter's favorite song as a child. I have no idea when the couple, both past 30, plan to have children; all I can think about is what an immeasurable loss it will be to their kids if grandma isn't around to teach them that song. Finally, of course, what all the arguments against having children amount to can be summed up in one simple word: fear. A fear increased, I think, by wanting to put things off until a perfect environment has been created in which to raise a child. We create such unwieldy expectations for our children, and for ourselves in the role of parents, that we burden ourselves with levels of anxiety that are nearly impossible to fathom. Many years ago, my son developed an almost unmanageable fear of entering the second grade, all because he didn't know how to do second-grade math yet. It took a while to explain to him that that's what you go to second grade for. I think there are a lot of people out there putting off having children because they don't know how to do it yet. Years ago, I came upon a quote from the novelist Joseph Conrad about how to deal with just these sorts of anxieties�or, in other words, life itself. Conrad's command of English may not yet have been perfect, but he gets the point across."A man that is born falls into a dream like a man who falls into the sea. If he tries to climb into the air as inexperienced people endeavor to do, he drowns. . . . No! I tell you! The way is to the destructive element submit yourself, and with the exertions of your hands and feet in the water make the deep, deep sea keep you up. . . . In the destructive element immerse." And so, to all you people considering having children, or considering getting married in order to consider having children, or considering getting engaged to consider getting married to consider having children, all I can say is: What are you waiting for? Jump! SIDEBAR 2Sex Myths: With Teens, Sex Education Is Often Re-education Tim Gower Before a young man makes love to his girlfriend for the first time, he should find out whether or not she has a sexually transmitted disease. To do this, he should discreetly scrape some wax out of his ear with his finger, and then�during foreplay�insert the digit into the woman's vagina. If she screams or recoils in pain, then the young man had better zip up his trousers and forget it: His date is undoubtedly unclean. Call it crude, or just plain cockamamie, but in the inner-city African-American community many young men accept this bizarre rule of thumb (or, index finger) as fact.This is just one of the classic teen sex myths that local sex-education instructors run up against. "When students have dearly held beliefs that they've come by from family group or peers, they don't let go of them easily," says Pamela Hillard, a health specialist for the Seattle public school system.Hillard helps oversee the Family Life and Sexual Health (FLASH) curriculum, which is also introduced to many King County public school students in fifth grade and is included in their lesson plan each year through 12th grade (the parents of a tiny portion of those students�fewer than 0.05 percent out of 137,000 in the 1993-1994 school year�sign waivers that excuse their children from taking the course).In spite of their best efforts, counselors say sex myths show remarkable resilience. The ear wax test has even found its way into the lyrics of rap music, perhaps lending it some undue credibility. A San FranciscoÜbased rapper named E-40 recorded a song with his group, the Click, called "She Was Only 16." In it, E-40 mentions giving his youthful date "a homemade Pap smear." (A gynecologist would find fault with his terminology, however, since Pap tests are typically used for detecting cervical cancer, not STDs.)Jo Henderson, an educator with Planned Parenthood's Seattle clinic, says she's heard of at least one variation on the ear wax exam that says the sticky secretion can be used in the same manner to arouse a woman. She's also heard some young men say that rubbing a slice of lemon on a woman's labia, to see if it burns, can act as an acid test for STDs. Some other commonly held myths are:*It's OK to have intercourse in a hot tub without contraception. The rationale? The heated water kills the sperm.*Among Seattle's street kids the following tests are thought to be accurate: If your semen turns yellow, it means you have an STD. A woman with a loose vagina is promiscuous. Got a yeast infection? Avoid bread products for a few days and it will clear right up.*Peter Browning, a King County health educator, says he was recently surprised to learn that teenage girls in rural towns, such as Duvall and Carnation, are still known to rely on a postcoital Coca-Cola douche to avoid getting pregnant, a practice he thought had fizzled out in the 1970s.Some sex myths are based on a shred of truth. Consider hot-tub contraception. Doctors believe that the testicles have to be cooler than the rest of body to produce sperm. To be on the safe side, men who are trying to become fathers are often told to avoid long, hot baths as a way of ensuring a high sperm count. However, simply submerging your loins in hot water does not guarantee that you'll be temporarily shooting blanks. Regardless of the myth or the teenager who believes it, sex educators say that they often have to prove themselves with kids by bringing up these misconceptions before they can go on to disprove them. As one woman who worked with street kids put it, "Sex myths are the reason I have a job."

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