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Fact or fiction: debunking sexual health myths for teenagers

  • Education
  • Society

So many questions swirl around sexual health and wellbeing and it can be difficult for teenagers to find credible answers, particularly when media, film and television may be perpetuating misinformation about sexual health and unrealistic body standards.

Does 'morning after' contraception work only the morning after sex? Would you know if you had an sexually transmitted infection (STI)? Can you get pregnant if you have sex during your period?

This is where a project at RCSI aims to help, in an easy-to-understand and backed-up-by evidence way. 'Debunking the Myths: The Science Behind Our Sexual Health' is an expert-led series of workshops and online tools to discuss sexual health with teenagers and clarify myths and common misconceptions.

Chairman of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at RCSI and Master of the Rotunda Hospital, Professor Fergal Malone, leads the project with Dr Zara Molphy. It is funded through the Science Foundation Ireland Discover Programme.

Delivered by RCSI and Rotunda Hospital consultants, doctors and researchers, the series explores a range of topics, including the HPV vaccine, contraception, menstruation, STI prevention and fertility, to help teenagers learn more about these subjects in a non-biased and non-judgemental way.

The programme consists of a series of interactive two-hour workshops and online engagement tools that provide clear and reliable information to teenagers in an engaging way. 

The initial goal of the project for the 2022-23 school year was to engage with 800 students through in-person sessions. Huge demand meant this target was reached in less than a week, despite being launched during the summer holidays.

Responding to the evident appetite and need for this kind of education, the project team will deliver the course in-person to 1,600 students with online sessions available to a further 5,000 teenagers by December 2023.

By providing live-streamed access to experts responding to questions in real-time, as well as equipment packs for schools that take part in the workshops, all students receive the same quality of information whether through the virtual or in-person sessions.

Building on topics covered by current RSE curriculum, 'Debunking the Myths' provides a space for teenagers to discuss sexual health/concerns with experts that they may not feel comfortable discussing with teachers or parents.

By providing them with tips on how to identify fact versus fiction and pointing them to reliable sources of information about their sexual health, it aims to remove the stigma associated with topics such as periods, contraception and sexually transmitted disease, and empower teenagers to discuss their sexual health openly and confidently with friends, family and medical professionals.

To answer the specific questions above: 

Does 'morning after' contraception work only the morning after sex?

There are various forms of emergency contraception available which can work for up to five days after sex, depending on the type used.

Would you know if you had a sexually transmitted infection?

Not all STIs announce themselves with symptoms, so if you think you may have an STI it’s important to get tested as soon as possible (free home testing is available in every county across Ireland via Using condoms correctly and every time you have sex will reduce your risk of getting an STI.

Can you get pregnant if you have sex during your period? 

The chances of getting pregnant if you have sex during your period are low, but it is possible to get pregnant by having unprotected sex before, during period or after your period, as some women’s cycles may be irregular.

To learn more about the project and common sexual health myths, visit the Debunking the Myths website.

RCSI is committed to achieving a better and more sustainable future through the UN Sustainable Development Goals.