Given the astonishing amount of sex myths still prevalent and believed in today’s society, it’s amazing some people are managing to have sex enjoyably or safely at all. The various myths range from well-worn notions that women can’t get pregnant if they have sex while standing up, or while having sex for the first time, to the bizarre belief that having orgasms make women fall in love. According to this latter school of thought men can orgasm during intercourse with no emotional involvement or implications, but orgasms inspire hormonal activity in women that will make them emotional with their sexual partner. Thankfully, for the most part, people are aware that these are old wives’ tales and don’t put much, if any, stock in them. Unfortunately, possibly thanks in part to lack of sufficient sex education, a lot of people — often teenagers — still believe that some myths are true, which can have devastating effects in leading to contraction of STIs or to unexpected pregnancies. In fact, between 2006 and 2008 one-third of teenagers in the US reported not having any formal education about contraceptives, while one in four aged between fifteen and nineteen received abstinence education without any instruction about birth control. This article debunks five common and still-believed myths about sex, the effects of which range from lack of enjoyment in intercourse to unplanned pregnancies.
5. Men are more interested in sex than women
A common and woefully misguided myth is that men are inherently far more interested in sex than women. This of course isn’t true — if it were it would be bad for both parties, with disinterested intercourse on the part of the woman and a constant sense of their partner just enduring sex on the part of the man. A book released by journalist Daniel Bergner in 2013 entitled What Do Women Want? Adventures in the Science of Female Desire found that women on the whole want sex just as much as men do, according to the work of various sexologists studied and profiled. Generally speaking, all of these studies came to the same conclusion: not only do women crave sex far more than is widely acknowledged, but their drive is “not, for the most part, sparked or sustained by emotional intimacy and safety.” In other words, women’s sexual drives are in fact closer to the common perception of men’s than of their own. It’s possible that this myth is so strong as a result of cultural conditioning; it is often seen as “forward” or even taboo for a woman to pursue a man instead of vice versa, and the idea of “slut shaming” is unfortunately still prevalent.
4. Women aren’t as “visually” stimulated as men
Another myth pertaining to a woman’s sex drive is that women typically aren’t as aroused by visual stimulation as men are. Interestingly, women appear to be just as — if not more — sexually aroused by use of visuals, but are less likely to discuss it or even admit it. According to research at McGill University, both men and women took around ten minutes to become physically aroused from watching pornography. Another study conducted by the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis measured women’s brainwaves in response to various images. It came to the surprising conclusion that there is a stronger and more immediate reaction in women to erotic images than to pleasant or disturbing ones. The study acknowledged the reams of previous collected material that has indicated that males respond faster and better to erotic images than females, but still claimed that “women have responses as strong as those seen in men.” Women would also seem to be more diverse than men in the visual material they respond to, reacting physically to a wider range of erotic images.
3. Sex during a period is safe sex
A potentially very problematic sexual myth is that having sex during a woman’s period means there is no possibility of pregnancy. It’s not surprising that this is a widely believed myth, since theoretically it makes sense; logically, menstruation is the body releasing the unused egg, so there should be no chance of pregnancy until the next ovulation. However, there are numerous flaws in this idea: one is that if a woman has an irregular cycle, ovulation may occur closer to menstruation than is the norm, which messes up the timeline. Another is that many women have long periods which can mean that they overlap with the actual ovulation, therefore some women may be fertile even while menstruating. Another issue is that sperm can survive inside the reproductive tract for a number of days, meaning even if you have sex while it’s “safe”, it may not still be as safe several days later. One last often overlooked pitfall is the late in life pregnancy which can occur during perimenopause, when periods are typically erratic. To avoid this, most doctors recommend not to stop using birth control until a woman hasn’t had a period in over a year.
2. Women are better suited to sexual monogamy than men
Men are given a bit of a get-out-of-jail-free card in terms of this myth: it is often claimed that women are biologically and inherently better suited to monogamy than men are, and that it’s simply in a man’s nature to need to play the field. The general belief is that women are seeking an emotional connection, while men are basically interested in sex. Oddly enough, it would appear that women are in fact worse suited to monogamy than men — a study conducted in 2006 involving two and a half thousand couples found that by and large women became sexually bored in monogamous relationships sooner than men. Another study in 2012 confirmed that women’s libidos spiral downwards during long-term relationships, while men’s tend to stay at the same level. It has been argued that this in fact makes it easier for a woman to be monogamous, since their interest in sex has waned, but two doctors who have written a book on sex myths, Don’t Put That in There! And 69 Other Sex Myths Debunked, disagree: they write that “this is not the healthy state for these women”, and that “the women are losing their desire to initiate sex or to have sex with their partners, which does not reflect their sexual health”. In this case, should their sexual health be at a normal level, it may in fact be more difficult for women to stay monogamous than for men.
1. Women always need extended foreplay
A hugely common sex myth is that all women always need long periods of foreplay, whereas men are good to go within a few seconds. The general sense is that if enough times isn’t spent warming up beforehand, women are less likely to have a good time of it during sex. A study conducted in the Czech Republic in 2008 reviewed 2,360 women on the average time they spent on foreplay versus the average time they spent actually having sex, and how often they orgasmed with their partner. The study reported that “consistency of partnered orgasm was more associated with penile-vaginal intercourse duration than with foreplay duration”, which suggests that more time spent on intercourse than on foreplay is the key to orgasm. This corresponds with their findings that the average time spent on foreplay was 15.4 minutes, while the average time spent having sex was 16.2 minutes. While this study only represents a very small percentage of the overall female population, it does highlight the fact that extended foreplay isn’t necessarily the way forward. A lot depends on the individual woman and how easily she becomes aroused, and also depends on her state of mind at the time, or the situation. In other words, instead of assuming that foreplay needs to take up a significant period of time, speak to each other and find out exactly what it is you both want.