Written by Nelli Naukkarinen
Trigger warning: Discussions of sex, sexual violence and HIV.
Sex. We all love to talk about it. Or most of us at least. Sex is an activity a big part of the human race takes part in. It is one of the most discussed topics, not just amongst people but also in media. But media and wider society do not always depict sex very realistically. We all know the discussions around how porn is not a realistic representation of sex, or how sexuality represented in movies is often over fetishized. But there is another side to this discussion, one often very overlooked, the false impressions and ideas we have of sex due to lies that have become so commonplace in society we have accepted them as truths.
In this article I want to highlight 9 sex-related myths, that we have in society accepted as truthful, and discuss how many of these myths are based on patriarchal notions of how women should be, how they should carry themselves out, the idea of entitlement to sex. We will also discuss how patriarchy affects men and the perception of them when it comes to sex.
Virginity is the first myth about sex or sexuality that is rooted in patriarchal ideas. Let’s say it right out of the door, virginity is a social construct. It is something we as a culture have decided exist, but it actually has no meaning. Not having sex does not change anything. There is nothing biologically different about your body, you do not change at all once you have had sex. Virginity is a patriarchal social construction invented to upkeep purity culture, and to control women’s sexuality. There is no way we can measure virginity, there is no way we can measure the before and after you have had sex. The hymen for example is not a sign of virginity. The hymen is a great mystery of female anatomy, we do not know for sure why women have a hymen, the physiological use of it is still unclear. Hymen which is thin fleshy tissues that is on the opening of your vagina. The idea of how the hymen would represent female virginity is that if you have had sex, your hymen is stretched open. However this is not the case, some women are born with hymens that are already stretched open, some women are born without hymens, or very little hymen tissue. Furthermore, the hymen can be stretched open with other activities than vaginal penetrative sex, it can stretch open with doing sports, by a tampon or by the use of a sex toy. Having a stretched open hymen or no hymen at all does not mean someone is not a virgin. However, many women around the globe are still subjected to hymen checks. It is common for many cultures to expect women to save themselves until sex, and in some countries, it is mandated by law that women have to have their hymens checked to make sure they have remained virgins until their marriage. Women are often also subjected to honour-based violence due to the concept of virginity.
Furthermore, the loosing of your virginity is a social construct rooted in patriarchy. This idea how women change after they have sex, or the purity culture idea of women who have sex before marriage are somehow tainted or damaged goods is based on the patriarchal notion that a woman’s virginity is the highest “prize” a man can get.
Having sex does not change you as a person. It does not change anything concrete about yourself or about your life. It does not have to hurt, this is also a false notion that sex has to be an experience that to be enjoyable in the long run has to hurt the first time. If a person experiences pain while having sex, this is most often caused by not enough lubrication often caused by lack of foreplay. It has nothing to do with the breaking of the hymen, or that the vagina is “molding” itself to get used to penetrative sex, a woman’s vagina does not change itself nor molds to the penis, a woman does not change if she has or has not had sex, virginity is a concept rooted in deep patriarchal roots where the value of a woman is based on whether she has had sex or not, and the “value” that her virginity holds.
- Blue balls
Blue balls in pop culture often refers to the uncomfortableness of men when they are aroused and not able to come. In pop culture blue balls is often presented as a very common occurrence of men’s arousal, and the uncomfortableness, this painful experience, where men have to suffer due to interrupted sex or sexual arousal caused to them that cannot be released. Blue balls is said to be caused by a build up of unreleased semen in the balls. frustration. So, while there is actually nothing dangerous about physiologically blue balls, the way the phenomenon is often presented to women and in media, is men go through extreme discomfort, pain and suffering and the phoneme of blue balls is often used as a pressure to at least “finish a guy off”, so they do not have to exist in uncomfortableness. It needs to be said, someone being sexually frustrated in a moment, is not a justification to pressure someone into having sex and doing so is sexual assault (). As described the sexologist Gigi Engle, blue balls has been used as a coercive tool to pressure people into sexual acts (). Pressuring someone into sexual acts if they have not given consent, or if they have expressed not to be interested with the false notion that the person is going through a horrible painful experience when their just experiencing sexual frustration is wrong, and sexual assault. Using coercion to get someone to perform sexual acts is not consent, someone getting too tired to argue and just doing it to get it out of the way, is not consent, its sexual assault.
- Your vagina gets looser the more you have sex
The idea behind that woman’s vaginas get looser the more they have sex, is based on patriarchal notion of policing women’s sexual liberation and slut shaming. There is no scientific evidence that women’s vaginas get looser due to the amount of sex they have. Lets get this clear, the vagina does not mould around the penis. During intercourse, when a woman is aroused the muscles of the vagina relax, allowing for penetrative intercourse. The muscle relaxes slowly, which is why foreplay to ensure sexual arousal happen is important. However, there is no evidence that women’s vaginas get looser due to the amount of sex they have, or the amount of sexual partners they have. While there is some evidence women’s vaginas might get looser as they age due to the muscle loosing strength, and the of the vagina do stretch during childbirth to allow for vaginal delivery, there is no evidence that the amount of sexual partners a someone with a vagina chooses to have, stretches it or makes it looser. This is another patriarchal notion used to police women’s bodies. Many women in their lives report being through the experience for being shamed for the choices they make regarding their sexuality and the expression of it, while men are applauded for “sleeping around”.
The portrayal of sex and bodies in media gives a false notion of what sex should look like and what a female or a male body should look like. It should not come as no surprise porn is not a realistic depiction of sex or of human bodies, the media we consume has an influence on the way we view not just sex, but ourselves, others and relationships. According to a 2014 study an increasing number of women are opting out for labiaplasty, which surgery done to change or “improve” the look of someones labia, by reducing the size of the labia. While of course the reason for someone to get a labiaplasty is not just due to self-consciousness due to how often female bodies are presented in media, and there are real medical reasons to do so, there is stilla growing trend of women getting vaginal surgery to improve the appearance of their vaginas. This is not jut a phenomenon for women, but men also get a false notion of sex and their bodies through media, with having to be very bulky and muscular to what size your penis should be. Media and the porn industry gives us a very false notion of what people should look like. The sex is presented in away that it can be difficult for a person to differentiate this is not what sex has to be like, and
Often how sex is potrayed in media is quick, rough and borderline violent. Many women and men get an idea that sex has to be something that is done immediately, very roughly with no foreplay or time considered. However, again sex is an individualistic experience. While of course some people might like rough sex and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that, what two consenting people do is upto them, but the way sex is potrayed often gives young people a false notion of what sex is. While most of us know porn is not realistic, with the heavy amount of plastic surgery involved, no consent or boundaries being discussed and the roughness and quick pace of all if it, it does not give a realistic picture to people who are still discovering their sexuality, or people in general. The portaying of sex in media does not just create false images of what sex is, that it needs to hurt or be very quick and rough and so on, it also has an unhealthy affect on relationships.
- Having a lower sex drive is a sign of something being wrong.
According to sex therapist Dori Gatter, one of the most common misconceptions brought to her is that when partners come to her to ask their partner to “be fixed” due to them having a lower sex drive. There is absolutely nothing wrong with someone having either low, lower or no sex drive. There can be multitude of reasons why someone might be experiencing low sex drive, no sex drive or even have a higher sex drive than their partners, these are incredibly individualistic experiences, and the notion of something being wrong with someone when their sexual drive does not meet the liking of their partner, is completely ludicrous. While of course there can be medical explanations for someone having a lower sex drive, such as medication and pregnancy, in general sex drive is a very individualistic experience and someone having a lower sex drive than their partner, is not something that has to be fixed as your sex drive does not have to meet a mandatory minimum, there is no on average women’s sex drive is abc, nor is there any “normalcy” to what fix it for. Like many things in life a person’s sex drive fluctuates overtime, sometimes a person might have a higher sex drive and sometimes lower and, in a relationship, it is completely normal to have different sex drive, again it is an individual experience. But the notion that if your sex drive does not meet the liking of your partner and therefore you need to be fixed, or furthermore you need to just have sex to meet the needs of your partner, goes back to the patriarchal notion of people owe you sex, and when you’re in a relationship you can expect or “take” sex whenever you want, but this is not the case. If a person did not consent to the act, that is sexual assault, or doing it just to meet the needs of the other person even if you do not feel up for it, is also assault.
- Condoms take all the feel away
While many of us might know of personal anecdotes of that condoms take the feel away when having sex, a lot of times the refusal to wear a condom based on this reasoning is based on just the unwillingness of men take a part in contraceptions. Through out history, the role of men in reproduction has been taken away, and contraception has very much been seen as a womans issue. However, still a lot of times when women voice the want for men to wear contraception’s such as condoms, often men refuse with the reasoning that it takes all the feel away, hence all the enjoyment of sex away from men. It should be noted, that wearing a condom regardless of if the other person is on other form of contraception, is a key to safe sex. STIs and other sexually transmitted diseases cannot be protected against without condoms, the pill or coil do not prevent someone from receiving an STI. Furthermore, STIs can cause serious long-term health issues, such as cervical cancer and inability to have children. The notion of men refusing to wear condom relies on the old an outdated notion that women are the sole person in charge of contraception. For many women they have gone through the experience of men refusing to wear condoms, asking women to take the day after pill, which should not be used as a form of contraception. The day after pill, while a great tool to help unwanted pregnancies, however it should not be relied on as a sole form of contraception as it is not a reliable long-term form of contraception. While it is not dangerous or bad for a woman’s health to take the day after pill on a regular basis, nor affect woman’s fertility as commonly believed, taking emergency contraception can actually cause side effects such as nausea, fatigue and dizziness and again is not as effective preventing pregnancy as other forms of birth control. Contraception should not be the sole responsibility of one sex, and similar as to giving consent is not a discussion it is the decision of the person over their own body, whether or not someone uses a condom should not be a debate. Using a condom is not only the common sense thing to do to prevent STI’s and STD’s and unwanted pregnancy, refusal to do so, or removal of condom mid sex or giving the other person the false pretences that you are and you are willing to use one and then refuse to do so, is sexual assault according to a ruling of an Ontario court.
- Women cannot orgasm or have a harder time getting aroused
There are common misconceptions around orgasms and arousal when it comes to women. Many believe women are simply unable to orgasm, or they have just such a harder time getting aroused that they will not orgasm during sex. While there are women and female bodied individuals who have anorgasmia, a condition that makes then unable to orgasm, on average most women are able to orgasms. There can be multiple reasons for a person to not orgasm during sex, often it is attributed to the idea that women on average have a harder time getting aroused during sex. This however is also not the case, there is no evidence that women on average have a harder time getting aroused. When measuring the average time for women to get aroused in comparison to men, the two groups had the same response time when watching sexually explicit content. So, if someone is struggling to get aroused during sex, it might be due to other reasons, such as the type of sex your having, or something more mental, where the person might not be ready mentally. Getting aroused is a process as much a physical as it is mental, so if your having a difficult time getting yourself into the correct headspace, due to things such as negative body image, performance anxiety, complications in your relationship, it may cause a person to struggle to get aroused. This however, does not mean women or female bodied people cannot get aroused, it just means sometimes you might just struggle to get there. The type of sex being had may also influence difficulty of getting an orgasm. On average, only about 18.4% of women experience orgasm through penetrative sex alone and according to other studies, upto 75% women do not orgasm from penetrative sex alone if there is no other stimulation. Most women struggle to orgasm with just penetrative sex, so it might be someone is able to orgasm, but just the type of sex being had is not going to get a person there.
Generally, in society there is a lot of pressure around sex and orgasms. There is a common idea that sex is only good if someone orgasms, or your partner has to make you orgasm multiple times during sex. While yes, some people can cum multiple times during sex, around 15% of women experience multiple orgasms during sex, it is in no way a demand you need to meet while having sex. Not being able to make your partner orgasms is not a sign of bad sex, or a sign that someone in general is unable to orgasms during sex. There is a bit of a hyberfixation in society about getting an orgasm during sex while it should be noted that the only goal of sex is not to orgasms. You do not have to cum every time when having sex, but also having a difficult time doing so, does not mean its something that cannot happen. Often this is used as an excuse to disregard female pleasure. While again yes sex is not about just having an orgasm, many women often feel their sexual pleasure is not as regarded, and that there is a common idea that when a man comes, that’s when sex ends as he is done. This is not the case, and is a way to just priotize male pleasure over womens pleasure.
- Men think about sex every seven seconds
There is a myth that men on average think about sex every seven seconds of the day. Again, there is no scientific evidence proving that men think about sex every seven seconds, furthermore for men to be thinking about sex every seven seconds, truly they would not be thinking of anything else. The notion that all men think about is sex is as common of a myth that we eat spiders in our sleep. The idea that men are hypersexual beings who cannot comprehend any other thoughts that boobs, bitches and sex, diminishes men to just sexual creatures, whose only goal in life is to get some. Furthermore, this idea that all men think about is sex, alienates men who may not have a very high sex drive, might be asexual and also works as kind of a boys will be boys justification for when men do cross lines and harass or assault people. The notion of well boys are just like that, all they think about is a pair of tits, is not just harmful as it is used as a explanation for bad behaviour, but also it creates a culture where this kind of behaviour of men is to be expected, that people should be just used to it or shrug it off as oh well Greg is a bit handsy but his a man so it happens. This notion just emphasizes rape culture and continues the cycle of removing responsibility from offenders, while simultaneously diminishes the feelings and experience of the victims.
- Only gay men can contract HIV
Not only is this quite common belief wrong, it is potentially the most dangerous out of all of these beliefs. Human immunodeficiency virus or more commonly known as HIV, is a virus that attacks the cells in your body that fight against infections, hence making you more vulnerable and prone to other infections and diseases. HIV is spread through certain bodily fluid, through most commonly unprotected sex, or through needles. AIDS is the latest stage of HIV, where the immune system is badly damaged due to the virus. Through the decades, around 79 million people across the world have been infected with the virus, around 36 million people have died of the virus. In 2020 around 37 million people across the world are living with HIV and every year around 600 thousand people die of HIV related reasons. HIV is no joke, it is a very dangerous virus, that when it is contracted, the virus does not go away, there is currently no cure for the virus, while there is medication that can prevent HIV to developing into AIDS, and can increase the quality of life and lifespan of someone who has HIV. There is also preventative medication that can stop someone from contracting HIV from their partners who are HIV positive. Since the first time the virus was diagnosed in 1981, the virus has been associated with the LGBTQIA+ community, especially gay men. Gay men yes statistically represent a higher amount of people who have HIV, making around 70% of the people infected in 2019. The reason why gay men are more at risk for contracting is HIV is due to the common practise of having anal sex. Now, it needs to be noted, not all gay men have anal sex, however it is still a very common form of intercourse amongst the gay community. Anal sex is around 18 times more at risk making someone contract HIV. Unlike the vagina, rectal tissue is very sensitive and prone to breakage, hence causing the risk of the virus to enter into someone’s system. So, while the tissue of vagina is not as thin and the structure of the vagina is “better” at preventing the spread of HIV, the risk is still there everytime someone partakes in unprotected sex. The notion that HIV can only spread through male on male intercourse, is not just only medically false and dangerous, it is also embedded into societal othering and discrimination of gay men. This notion perpetuates harmful stereotypes of gay men, relying on the stereotype how gay men sleep around and are sexually “promiscuous”, while again in reality sex is an individualistic experience, and the sexual habits and behaviour of people is upto the individual. Furthermore, the labelling, of someone’s sexual behaviour as promiscuous, is based on outdated patriatical notions and gatekeeping peoples sexuality, that sex is meant just for reproductive purposes and there is a right amount of sex someone can have.
- Contraception is a sign of cheating, or will increase the likelihood of you cheating
While to many of us it should be common knowledge that using forms of contraception indeed is not cheating nor a sign that someone is likelier to cheat, it is still a common pseudoscience argument that using long-term contraception such as the pill, capsule or IUD is a sign that someone is cheating, or is more likelier to cheat on their partner. There is no correlation causation argument that can be drawn from here. It needs to be said, using birth control does not make someone more likely to cheat. The notion that someone using birth control makes them likelier to cheat, is based on patriartical notions of control of woman’s reproduction. Since the birth control came to the market, and control over unwanted pregnancies became more accessible for women, there has been arguments over whether or not women should have the right to control their own reproduction. Whether id be on access to emergency contraceptions, tools for safe sex, contraception in general or abortion, we have a twisted idea as a society that someone other than the person whose uterus it is, has a say in what they can or cannot do with set uterus. No one, and it needs to be shouted off the rooftops, no one other than the person whose uterus is in question has a say in what they do or do not do with their reproductive rights. As with any other form of medical care, no one else should be able to dictate if the person should or should not receive the treatment they want. As we don’t prevent people from taking antibiotics when they need them, we shouldn’t prevent people from accessing birthcontrol. Lets put aside all the consequences for a bit that come with unwanted pregnancies, such as the increased likelihood of set child to face abuse, dangerous abortions to rise and other overall issues on the wellbeing of the person giving birth and child, holding someones access from birth control, is abuse. A common abuse tactic used and faced by people in situations of intimate partner violence is control and restrictions. This is not just in things such as allowed to work or see family, it is also in things like bodily rights. So, it truly needs to be emphasized, contraception is not a tool to be able to just have sex with anyone and everyone, (and even if it is used as such, it is no one elses issue) and it is not a tool that will automatically increase cheating. There are multitude of medical benefits on being on contraception and many chronically ill people with uteruses rely on contraception’s such as the pill to be able to manage their day to day life. Hence, it is vital that w do not give power and credibility to such arguments, as it reduces womens and people with uteruses rights over their own body and health, and is an abusive tactic to gatekeep the wellbeing, freedom and sexual liberatio of women.
- Only working form of contraception or prevention of unwanted pregnancies is to save onself for marriage
No. This is indeed not the case. While yes, if you are not having sex, you are not going to get pregnant, it does not mean it is the only working form or the only form that you should use to prevent unwanted pregnancies. There are multitude of different birth control methods of other than withholding from sex that can prevent pregnancies. Again, if someone wants to wait until marriage to have sex, that is compeltly normal, upto the person in question and decision that needs to be respected. As when it comes to any decision a person makes over their body or regarding sex, it needs to be respected, so if someone wants to wait to have sex until they are married, the person has every right to do so. However, the notion that you should or need to wait to have sex until marriage is based on religious gate keeping of sexuality and that sex is only meant for one purpose only, reproduction. Sex is meant for more than just creating life, and hence should not be gatekept and reserved only to set purpose. Furthermore, the notion of sex only belongs to marriage is not just outdated but dangerous. In many U.S.A states where abstinence is advocated as only form of birth control, the rate of teenage pregnancy, STI’s are higher. What also should not be forgotten, is that many young people when pressured that sex outside of marriage is a sin and bad, often rush to get married to have sex, leading to other potential issues down the line. So no, there are multiple forms of contraception a person can use, not just abstinence.
As discussed in many points of the article, there are many wrong assumptions and ideas on sex based on outdated patriarchal notions. Many rely on the old ideas that women are objects of pleasure for men, and that their worth is somehow connected to their sexuality and experiences. The purity culture based notions are dangerous, not just for the individual but also for public health, as they spew pseudoscience based ideas of health, spread false knowledge about sexual health and wellbeing, not to forget that they have made false believes on things like womens anatomy common place. I cannot stress enough for dangerous these myths are, not just for the health of the individual, but also for overall public health. STI’s and STID’s are no joke and can cause very serious longterm health issues, the AIDS crisis has taken thousands of lives, unwanted pregnancies cause intergenerational trauma and abuse, and purity cultural ideas of virginity allows for breeding grounds of sexual abuse and deep shame over ones sexuality. Sex is a completely normal part of human life and experience, and should not be something that people feel deep shame over.
Edited by Karolina Hajna, artwork by Teresa Valle