Five Myths We Need to Stop Telling Ourselves About Sex
Regardless of our experiences with sex, it can be hard to separate truth from fiction when it comes to sex and the human body. In this article, we discuss some of the most common and believed myths about sex as well as their realities.
“If you have sex in a bathtub, you won’t get pregnant!”
“Eating oysters will make you horny!”
“If you turn thirty and you’re still a virgin, you’ll become a wizard!”
Needless to say, there’s a lot of incorrect – and at times, silly – information floating around about sex. While some of it might be harmless in nature (eating oysters probably won’t do anything to make you less horny), a lot of it can skew our view of our own relationships and sex lives or even put us at risk of illness. In this article, we discuss some of the common sex myths that still linger on and work to debunk them to help you lead a more fulfilling – and safer – sex life.
Sex Myth One: Masturbation is detrimental to our sex lives
There’s a common myth that masturbating outside of sex will cause orgasm to become more difficult or lead to all sorts of potential sexual dysfunctions. However, we know through research that in people of all sexes, there is no evidence to suggest that masturbation alone will lead to sexual dysfunction – studies show that when we look at specific dysfunction like delayed orgasm, there is more to be said about the role stress and anxiety play on functioning than masturbation.
Beyond lacking evidence to back up claims of masturbation causing sexual health problems, there’s also a lot to be said about what masturbation does right for our physical health. Some of the physical health benefits of masturbation include improved sleep, strengthened pelvic floor and anal muscles, increased libido, reduced risk of prostate cancer and heart disease, and even boosts the immune system! We also see in research that for people assigned female at birth, masturbation can actually be linked being more likely to be able to orgasm during sex.
Sex Myth Two: “Real” sex always includes penetration
In conversation, we almost always equate penetration with sex, but the assumption that everyone must equate penetration (be it vaginal, anal) to sex and vice versa isn’t correct. One thing that is important to realize when it comes to sex is that many people have different, distinct definitions of sex – and that is something that’s okay! While many people might consider sex to be penetrative in nature, there are also many people with their own definitions. All of this is to say that for sex to be real and “satisfying”, it doesn’t have to include penetration. This applies across gender and sexes assigned at birth.
It’s important to note especially that for some people, penetrative sex might be off the table – be it a medical condition like vaginismus that can create pain during sex, or someone’s personal preference for non-penetrative sexual activity. Even if someone does like to participate in penetrative sex some of the time, there may be a multitude of reasons why a person might not be interested in penetration all the time.
Sex Myth Three: Men are more sexual than women
Even more specifically, you may have heard before the myth that men on average think about sex “every 7 seconds” compared to women who hardly ever have sex on the mind. While this myth can be busted pretty simply by any man being aware about all the other places his mind goes to in a singular day, it feeds into the larger narrative that men are inherently much more sexual than women. Recurrent patterns found in research show little to no evidence that men desire sex any more than women; when looking at man-woman couples, if there is inequality in regards to sexual desire (or “desire discrepancy” as we often refer to it in couple’s treatment), it’s usually pretty evenly split on the odds of whether the woman or man is interested in sex more often.
One thing that is true, however, is that a lot of people are socialized to believe this idea. We teach young men from a young age that it’s expected that they will be very interested in sex all the time, and we teach young women from a young age that they should not be sexual lest they come off as “promiscuous” or worse. This creates shame for people of all genders when their desires around sex don’t line up with cultural narratives, which in turn can make it harder when a woman in a relationship feels her sexual needs aren’t getting satisfied, when a man feels pressured to perform sexually, or when a nonbinary person might not know how they’re supposed to fit into sexual narratives.
Sex Myth Four: Oral and anal sex are inherently safe sex
Oftentimes we view “safe sex” through an ultra-simplified lens: will this sex lead to pregnancy? Not only can this view be detrimental just in its inherent heteronormative lens, but also it can lend the focus only towards pregnancy prevention and cause people to forget about the importance of STI prevention. Most STIs can travel through various routes, be it through the urethra, vagina, anus, mouth, etc. Anal sex can sometimes pose a greater risk to exposure of certain STIs due to the potential for tearing during penetration. Oral sex may have lower risk of exposure with certain illnesses, but not all – some examples of STIs that spread easily through oral sex include herpes simplex virus and human papillomavirus (HPV).
However, this is not to say that oral and anal sex can’t be safe. Of course, there are many measures you can take around oral and anal sex to decrease your risk of infection. With oral sex, using condoms and dental dams can be some of your safest bets with lowering risk. Dental dams are square sheets made of material similar to condoms (often latex, but non-latex options exist for those with allergies) made to be placed over a vulva or anus to act as a thin barrier between the area and the partner’s mouth and tongue. For anal sex, the proper use of condoms is critical, as well as reading up on safe anal play to prevent injury or tearing from occurring.
Regardless of how you have sex, if you are sexually active it is important to be regularly tested. This is one of the most important steps of preventing the spread of STIs. You may also wish to consult with your physician regarding if preventative medications, such as Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) which helps prevent the spread of HIV, may be beneficial for you.
Sex Myth Five: You can always tell when you or someone else has an STI
While many people experience clear symptoms of infection, many STIs are not as clearly seen. Some people who may be able to spread STIs may never even experience any symptoms of an illness. There is no sure fire way of being sure whether you or a partner have an STI outside of visiting your doctor and/or getting tested. Depending on your lifestyle and identities, doctors may recommend different routines around testing, but if you are sexually active with more than one person it’s generally a good idea to be tested every 3-6 months.
Unfortunately, there is no shortage of myths that exist out there about sex and the human body. Fortunately, there is also no shortage of resources available regarding sex! The best way to challenge myths for ourselves and for others is through education. Sex education is something important at every age – whether you’ve never had sex or have been having it for years. Below are some resources you can check out to help you in learning for yourself and in having conversations with those around you about sex.
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