By Karen Washington, LMFT, & Katie Roach
There may be two seasons of “Sex Education” on Netflix, but high-quality sex ed in our society can still be hard to come by. Pair that with the widespread availability (and watchability) of porn, and many harmful myths about sex persist. The good news? These myths are easily debunked, and your sex life will feel a whole lot more satisfying without them.
- Porn is real. Porn is, inherently, a form of film, and porn performers are actors. While porn actors in some scenes may be experiencing real pleasure, their performances are often just that: performances. Porn often bypasses real, important aspects of sex, like foreplay, consent, setting boundaries, reciprocal oral sex, funny mishaps, awkward moments, and constant communication. Did we mention porn often skips the foreplay? More on that later.
- Sex = penis in vagina. Sex can be defined as any activity that consenting adult(s) engage in that brings pleasure. This includes solo sex play, like masturbating, as well as manual or oral activities for more than one adult to participate in. Other sex play can include role-playing, sensual play, BDSM, etc. Sex is not limited to one activity and one definition. Rather, it is only as limited as imagination and willingness to explore a variety of activities.
- Women should be able to climax from penetration without assistance. According to dozens of studies, more than 75 percent of women need more than just penetration to orgasm. Clitoral stimulation, either on its own or along with penetration during intercourse, is generally needed to get women to the O-zone. In fact, research suggests that even G-spot orgasms can be attributed to the clitoris, since the network of tissue goes far deeper than meets the eye. Many women can get enough clit stimulation during sex with the help of an extra hand or by getting in positions that allow them to grind their pubic bones on their partners’ pelvises or thighs.
- Sex should happen naturally/organically. Despite how it seems in the movies, sexual desire doesn’t always fall out of thin air! In the words of Esther Perel, foreplay begins the moment the last orgasm has subsided. This means that sexual desire in a relationship often has to be cultivated, whether that’s through flirting with your partner, reading erotica, sending hot texts to each other, or spending a little more time making out. Sex is a state of mind, and it’s one we fall out of without intentionality and plenty of practice.
- Men want sex more than women. In this equation, everyone loses. Not only does it create unrealistic standards for men, but it also totally underestimates the power of female desire. No one of any gender wants to have sex all the time – stress, sickness, fluctuating hormones, shifting energy levels, and seasons of life all impact how often we want to get it on, and men can feel undue pressure to perform if they buy into this trope. As our culture becomes more and more affirming of female sexuality, we also see that women have much higher sex drives than previously thought!
- Pain with sex is ok. Pain with sex is never ok, unless the consenting parties wish to incorporate pain as part of their sex play. If you are a person experiencing unwanted pain during sex, you do not have to endure that! Also, unwanted pain with sex can be remedied. Unwanted pain with sex may be a sign of anatomical issues or psychological barriers to experiencing pleasure. Please reach out to your doctor and/or a sex therapist to discuss further.
- High frequency = high satisfaction. Most often, people coming into sex therapy equate their sexual satisfaction with having more sexual frequency. However, it could be that you are really seeking a higher quality of sexual connection with your partner(s). Higher satisfaction can come from improving the relationship, improving foreplay, or changing up the sexual repertoire to incorporate new activities.
- All erections are spontaneous, need little/no coaxing, and are super rock hard at attention every time. The truth is, most erections will wax and wane in erectness over the course of any sexual activity. Additionally, erections change over time due to life factors, age, and health considerations. Penis-having bodies also experience periods of responsive desire, which means that they need to get into the sexual activity to feel inclined to have sex instead of being erect at the start. Sometimes, especially when the penis-having person is stressed out/distracted/not feeling well, they may need more effort in maintaining their erection over the course of sex play.
- Size matters. Ah, one of the oldest myths in the books. You’ve likely heard the saying that “it’s not the size of the ship but the motion of the ocean,” and there’s a lot of merit to it. When it comes to penis-in-vagina sex, the angle of penetration (hello, G-spot), the pacing of the action, and sex position matter a lot more than size does. This is where our earlier myth about female orgasm during penetration is helpful to remember – it’s much more about stimulating the right spots than it is “measuring up” size-wise! Check out this map to see sizes around the globe: The Penis Size Worldwide (country).
- Longevity of intercourse. Intercourse, on average, only lasts around seven to ten minutes from penetration to climax. The rest of the time is foreplay and afterplay. While this can vary from individual to individual, hours-long sex is a myth perpetuated by pop culture and pornography. What most people don’t see when viewing those examples is all of the effort it takes behind the scenes to pull off hours long sex. Longevity also does not necessarily equate quality, either. Check with your sex partner about their preferences.
- Alternative sex means you’re bad. There is a long history globally of telling people that are not cisgender, heterosexual, and monogamous that there is something wrong with them for their preferences. That is simply not true. If you enjoy kinky sex, or prefer ethical nonmonogamy, or any preference outside of the typical tropes, guess what – it’s fine. Your preferences are yours. As long as you practice safe, sane, and consensual sexual activity, live your best life. Check out this website to see how sexual activity varies across the globe: Some Culturally-Based Differences in Sexual Activity.
- Sexual compatibility comes naturally. When we define sexual compatibility as sharing preferences or desires with your partner, it seems like achieving it is just a matter of finding the right person. And that might be true, to some extent – but it requires a lot of self-knowledge, sexual exploration, and brave communication with a partner to figure out if you could have real compatibility and what those shared desire are. The bottom line is this: It can be difficult to tell if you and a partner are compatible from the get-go, and exploring that terrain together can be more than half the fun!