As strange as it might seem, it wasn’t all that long ago that society expected all women to remain virgins until marriage. The “facts of life” were spoken in whispers, birth control was completely unavailable and even stigmatized, and “sex ed” didn’t exist.
Even though we’ve made a lot of progress, modern life can still be pretty sex-negative. Sure, nudity is all over movies, TV, and advertising, “WAP” was a hit, and internet porn is a fixture of our lives — but we’re also still dealing with plenty of misconceptions, leftover puritanism, and other factors that can get in the way of enjoying sexual pleasure the way our bodies want to do.
Unfortunately, many of us have unconsciously picked up and still believe in some disempowering myths about sex, pleasure, and intimacy.
There’s no shame in still having more to learn, though, and it’s often not even your fault that society has brainwashed you into feeling bad about sex! That’s why we’ve assembled a list of our least favorite sex myths — and the juicy truth.
Why Are There So Many Misconceptions About Sex?
Sex is beautiful, natural, and, most of all, fun! So why has it gotten such a bad reputation, and why is it such a polarizing subject? It comes down to three factors: social stigma, outdated beliefs, and a lack of education.
Let’s break them down.
Social stigma refers to negative attitudes and belief systems toward people with shared characteristics (think: race, gender, sexuality, religion, etc.). While we’ve already come a long way in how we talk about sex, there are still plenty of social stigmas to go around, especially for sexual and gender minorities.
Not only does this stigma lead to a lack of education in our society as a whole, but it can also have devastating health consequences for those targeted populations.
Growth happens slowly. When we compare our current societal views on sex to where we were even 50 years ago, it’s clear how much has changed for the better. However, we still have a long, long way to go.
While it would be nice if we could just wave a magic wand and *poof* all of those harmful sexual myths would be gone, it just takes patience, a lot of hard work, and re-education to pull them out by the root.
Many harmful, outdated beliefs specifically target how women and anyone who identifies as a member of the LGBTQIA+ spectrum are “supposed to” behave.
Lack of Education
Listen, we love the internet as much as everyone else. Where would we be without access to all the information the internet provides? It’s definitely propelled us forward as a society and improved our daily lives immensely.
Unfortunately, every light side has its dark side. For those without access to the resources that can teach them properly about sex (like comprehensive sex education programs), the internet can be a scary place fraught with misinformation. Studies have shown how incredibly unreliable the internet can be, perpetuating sexual misconceptions, myths, and urban legends.
Myth: If there’s no penetration, it doesn’t count as sex.
Truth: This is absolutely not the case! The idea that sex consists strictly of traditional penis-in-vagina penetration is a holdover from when the only “acceptable” sex was heterosexual and meant solely for procreation.
The truth is, even when non-marital or “alternative” types of sex were stigmatized (and even illegal, in some cases), people have always enjoyed all kinds of physical intimacy with all kinds of other people. Unfortunately, heterosexual intercourse with the sole intention of making a baby was the only kind of sex that “counted.”
Oddly enough, the myth that you can still be a virgin if you only have anal sex exists for the same reason. Don’t expect urban sex legends to make any sense.
Thankfully we’re not living in those times anymore. Oral sex is sex! So is anal and hand sex(“fingering” or hand jobs). Many people never have penetrative sex and still have plenty of sex.
The focus on penetration as the primary component of sex is super discriminatory against many people who either don’t have the parts to enjoy or aren’t interested in that type of sex. Sex shouldn’t have to be such a narrow definition.
So what “counts” as sex? That’s up to you (and your partner if you have one)! “Did we actually do it?” is a strong argument for open, joyful communication around boundaries, definitions, and what feels really good. Ultimately, sex can be anything you want. Who cares what society has to say about it?
Myth: Sex is only worthwhile if you have an orgasm.
Okay, so what does “worthwhile” actually mean? Memorable? Physically pleasurable? Intimate? You can have all those experiences without having an orgasm, which is super validating for those of us who need specific stimulation on a specific timeline to reach a climax or have trouble getting off at all.
Here’s an interesting, related fact that may surprise you — at least 10 percent of people with a clitoris have never had an orgasm, and half of us aren’t satisfied with how often we have them. How much of that is due to buying into what society is telling us about sex's goal?
Decoupling the idea of “worthwhile sex” from “guaranteed orgasms” can also mean our partners feel less obligated to sweat grimly over our bodies like they’re trying to change a tire – not hot. Sex should be fun, not stressful, and definitely not goal oriented. Stop letting society put so much pressure on both of you.
Everyone deserves to have as many orgasms as they want. But sometimes, you don’t need one to be left breathless — whether it’s a stealthy quickie or a leisurely evening focused solely on pleasuring your partner. Screw the goal; let go and live a little without so much self-imposed constraint.
And as a bonus, orgasms can be much easier to access when the pressure to have them is off. Surprise!
Myth: Lube is only for "dry" people.
We often hear this – “I get so wet I don’t need lube.” Somehow, we ended up in a time when getting too wet to need lube became a point of sexual pride among people with vulvas, like people with penises bragging about being able to go for hours on end.
Ironically, social media trends like the “clean panty challenge” are simultaneously telling us that having any discharge is bad — talk about mixed messages (FYI, it is perfectly normal to have discharge in your underwear because your vagina is a “self-cleaning oven”).
Truth: natural lubrication can come and go for many different reasons, both obvious and less-than-obvious. Plenty of people get very aroused without getting physically wet, while others only get juicy when approaching climax.
Bodies are different, and this is something to celebrate! It’s not worth comparing yourself to others; it only leads to unnecessary hits to your self-esteem and self-confidence.
So if you need it — or just if you want it — give yourself permission to reach for the lube without any self-imposed shame. It doesn’t mean you’re bad at sex or your body doesn’t work correctly, so don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. If your partner gives you pushback or takes it as an insult, educate them! Get a new partner if they still make you feel bad about it.
Plus, even if your vagina is a replica of Niagara Falls all the time, a good, clean lube is wonderful for all kinds of sexual intimacy — from anal massage to breast play to a playful, slippery wrestling match. Be generous, enjoy the sensual slide, and see what happens.
Myth: Masturbation is only for when you are single or lonely.
Thankfully, this myth seems to be going away, however slowly. The recent wave of sex-positive discourse has embraced masturbation wholeheartedly. More people are exploring vibrators, dildos, prostate massagers, and all kinds of tips, tricks, and tools for enhancing “alone time.”
A thoughtful, celebratory masturbation practice is good for you in many ways, and if you know what you like, you can take that knowledge into bed with your partner as well. Where’s the downside?
The reality is that some people are still ashamed, especially if they come from a conservative or religious family that taught them masturbation was bad or even sinful. We might be made to feel like losers for masturbating, or we find ourselves getting territorial and jealous about our partners’ solo sex routines. But as long as we’re not masturbating compulsively to the point that it hurts us physically or takes over our lives, self-pleasure can be a vital form of self-care.
On a related note, we also don’t think people masturbate during sex enough. Adding masturbation to your sex life, especially if one of you has trouble climaxing with a partner, is a great way to take the pressure off and ensure all have a good time.
Free your mind, and orgasms will follow!
Myth: People with vaginas are “supposed to” orgasm from penetration alone.
Thankfully, this is another myth that’s finally fading, thanks to people with female anatomy speaking out about what really turns them on — and gets them off.
And not a moment too soon, either. It’s impossible to get through life without being affected by this sexual myth. Have you read romance novels before? Have you masturbated to porn videos shot with an exclusively male gaze? Have you watched any sex scene in any mainstream movie?
Those people are getting off right and left from penetration alone, making us worry that something is terribly wrong with how our own bodies work. Spoiler alert — there isn’t!
But where did his myth come from? It likely originated with the idea that the erect penis is the be-all, end-all of “real sex.” Lesbians throughout history have rolled their eyes, but the legend persists – even though 70 percent of people with female anatomy need direct clitoral stimulation to climax. While the penis is great, it can be more of a side dish when it comes to getting off regularly.
So, if you’re one of the many, many people who can’t orgasm from penetration alone, please know that you are perfectly normal — you’re even in the majority! Grab a vibrator, show your partner what you like, or take matters into your own hands, and let’s let this myth — and all these sexual myths — die for good.
Is Sex the Same for Everyone?
No, and thank goodness! Imagine if we were all having the exact same sex every single time. We’d be bored out of our minds!
Everyone enjoys sex differently and has unique likes, dislikes, and kinks that keep life interesting. Unfortunately, especially for people who have unconsciously bought into sexual myths and self-shame, we’re not always aware of what works and doesn’t work for our own minds and bodies.
A great way to learn more about yourself while also breaking down one of the sexual myths we discussed is to explore yourself more. Masturbation feels great, releases stress, and shouldn’t be stigmatized. Set aside time to really get to know your body, how it responds to certain types of touch, and what turns you on mentally and gets you in the mood.
We also urge you to involve your partner in your self-exploration. Take plenty of time for foreplay, show your partner how you like to be touched, and use lube. If you want to increase your sensation even further, try out an arousal oil.
Keep open, active communication so that you feel safe expressing what feels good, what you need, and your boundaries. Your partner may have also unconsciously bought into the same myths, so you can work on breaking them down together.
How Can I Help Educate Others About Sex?
Be an advocate! Speak up if you hear someone expressing self-doubt or an opinion from sexual myths or misconceptions. The beautiful part about breaking down these walls is that you can spread the wealth and help your friends feel more comfortable with their own bodies, too.
Educate your children about sex instead of continuing to stigmatize it, making them far more likely to come to you about it instead of turning to the internet or their peer group. Push your local schools to include accurate, comprehensive sex education and talk about the importance of consent to help them learn the facts before they’re sexually active.
The same advocacy goes for educating your partners about your own body and preferences. Don’t be afraid to speak up when getting intimate with someone else, and ensure they have the tools they need to succeed at getting you off. Active communication is sexy because it promotes a sense of trust and allows you to be comfortably vulnerable, exploring things you may not have felt safe exploring before.
The Bottom Line
Sexual myths, misconceptions, and urban legends may be persistent, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do your part to move past them and educate yourself. So many of these myths are harmful and stop you from being able to really enjoy your body and experience the pleasure you deserve when having sex with yourself or another person.
Breaking them down and understanding more about the real truth behind how sex and your body work can give you back your power. Orgasms are for everyone, after all!
A systematic review of stigma in sexual and gender minority health interventions | PMC
Misconceptions and Ignorance About Sexual and Reproductive Health | PMC
Orgasmic dysfunction in women | MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia
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