In a world saturated with media portrayals of sex and relationships, it’s easy to absorb misconceptions that can hinder our understanding of healthy sexuality. Sex therapists are often on the front lines, dispelling myths and guiding individuals toward fulfilling, consensual, and satisfying experiences. In this article, we’ll explore 10 prevalent misconceptions about sex that sex therapists wish people knew, aiming to debunk myths perpetuated by the media.
- The Perfect Body Myth: One pervasive myth propagated by the media is the notion of a “perfect” body. There is no such thing. Perfection is hard to achieve and is mostly assessed only in the eye of the beholder. Sex therapists emphasize the importance of body positivity and self-acceptance. A healthy sexual relationship first with oneself and then with another(s) often includes feeling comfortable in one’s skin. This allows people to relax and present with their bodies to experience pleasure.
- Spontaneous Desire vs. Responsive Desire: Contrary to media depictions, not everyone experiences spontaneous sexual desire. Spontaneous desire is when people look at each other and then start taking their clothes off. The media often suggests there is very little, if any foreplay, which is a problem for those with responsive desire who need to warm up to get in the mood. Sex therapists emphasize the concept of responsive desire, which is predominant and normal for many people. Another way to think about this is that spontaneous desire is like a microwave. It is heated when turned on. Responsive desire is more like an oven. It needs to preheat before it is ready. This understanding promotes a more inclusive view of sexual desire.
- Duration of Sex: Media often portrays sex as a marathon, leading to unrealistic expectations. Penetrative sex doesn’t last as long as the media suggests it does. A 2005 study suggested that it lasts on average 5.4 minutes for vaginal penetrative sex. Sex therapists stress that quality matters more than quantity. Communicating desires and ensuring mutual satisfaction are key components of a healthy sexual relationship.
- Communication is Key: While media tends to focus on physical aspects, sex therapists highlight the importance of communication. Clear, open, and honest communication is the cornerstone of a satisfying sexual relationship, fostering understanding and connection. Many clients think communication isn’t sexy. However, how much fun is it to not enjoy what is happening or be the one doing something and not know that it wasn’t pleasurable to your partner? Media suggests that partners will intuitively know and be able to “read their body language,” but this is not always realistic. Many couples assume or misinterpret causing further issues rather than talking about it. Communication can be with words, sounds, or movements. Find playful and fun ways to communicate your pleasure. Only you know what your body likes at that moment and what might feel better.
- The Orgasm Gap: Media often perpetuates the idea that simultaneous orgasms are the norm. It is rare for this to happen consistently. More often there is turn-taking. Vulva owners are made to have a shorter refractory period compared to penis owners who have a longer refractory period. This means women can orgasm more often than men during sex. Sex therapists encourage couples to explore and communicate their desires without pressure. This creates relaxation and safety allowing desire and arousal to increase. That said, many also evaluate sex as being “good” or “bad” based on if both people orgasm. Some people take it personally if their partner doesn’t orgasm. Pleasure can be authentic without orgasm. It may be helpful to reflect on your motivations to have sex. For many, it is related to psychological needs rather than physical.
- Porn vs. Reality: The media frequently blurs the lines between pornography and reality, leading to unrealistic expectations. Television shows now have sexual scenes that used to only be found on late-night stations that often required payment (e.g., Cinemax aka “skinemax”). Social media also portrays many sexual images. There are websites dedicated to what one typically thinks of pornography where videos depict people graphically having sex. However, pornography is not always easy to define and can be in the eye of the beholder based on their values and beliefs. Sexualizing people, typically women, reinforces unrealistic perspectives of women. One example is music videos where women are often portrayed in scantily clad clothing and wanting sex whenever the male is interested. Sex therapists advocate for distinguishing between fantasy and real-life experiences, fostering a more authentic and satisfying sexual connection. Younger people need to have a resource other than pornography to learn about healthy sex. Without it, they turn to the only resources they can find to answer questions they may have. However, this creates unrealistic expectations for themselves, partners, and their relationships.
- Gender Stereotypes: Media tends to reinforce traditional gender roles where women are passive or have a strong need for sex. Women get the message that good girls don’t like sex, only bad girls. You hear this in songs, movies, and TV shows there is a girl you bring home to meet your family and girl who you don’t bring home is typically portrayed as liking sex. Song lyrics talk about women being a “lady” during the day but a “freak” in the bedroom. This duality creates inner conflict for many women. Men are typically portrayed as being oversexed and struggling to contain themselves. They also are supposed to be knowledgeable about sex and already know how to pleasure partners. Sex therapists work to dismantle these stereotypes, encouraging individuals to embrace their unique desires and express themselves authentically, free from societal expectations.
- Libido Discrepancy: Sex therapists address the common myth that partners should always have matching libidos. The media shows couples that seem to always be in the mood at the same time and often orgasm at the same time. Discrepancies tend to be the norm among couples. Orgasm is viewed as the only goal and the way to assess if sex if successful. It is also common for one person to not orgasm. There are many ways to feel pleasure and an orgasm isn’t required.
- Sexual Pain and Taboos: Media often neglects issues like sexual pain, creating a taboo around discussing such concerns. Vaginismus, Vulvodynia, and Dyspereunia impact many women. American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, 3 out of 4 women will experience sexual pain in their life. Common times are after pregnancy or childbirth and menopause. Megan Trainor came out as having vaginsmus. Sex therapists and specialized medical professionals can help. Most pain is treatable. Contact us to learn more about our empirically validated treatment options.
- Sexual Wellness is a Journey: Contrary to quick fixes portrayed in the media, sex therapists emphasize that sexual wellness is a journey, requiring ongoing communication, exploration, and adaptation. Bodies change over time. Be open and patient with your body. Listen to it!
By debunking these myths, we hope to shed light on the reality of sexual relationships and encourage a more open, understanding and informed approach to intimacy. Sexual Health and Healing offers many options to treat challenges with desire, arousal, orgasm, and pain. Learn more about our services here.