It's time to kick some of these outdated sex myths to the curb. Barbara Lee, author of Sacred Sex: Replacing the Marriage Ethic With a Sexual Ethic, is here to share eight common misconceptions about sex.
If there is one topic that gets our attention it's sex. Most of us think about it, talk about it and engage in it on a pretty regular basis. There is so much information out there about sex that what we are often led to believe is anything but true. All of us have heard myths that we assume to be true, but under closer scrutiny that conventional wisdom turns out to be false.
Here are eight myths about sex and intimacy followed by the truth.
Myth: You must orgasm to be satisfied.
This myth has led to an increase in both women and men faking orgasms. Sometimes sexual interaction simply does not produce an orgasm and that is perfectly fine. It is not a sign of failure if you don't have an orgasm. It is not a sign of failure if your partner doesn't have an orgasm. Stress, health issues, sleepiness, an unexpected leg cramp, all these and more can act as deterrents to a sexual climax, but that doesn't mean that sex isn't enjoyable, fulfilling and intimate. This myth has led to an increase in the number of people faking orgasms which would indicate we are too concerned about how we or our partner "performs" and not spending enough time relaxing, being authentic and enjoying ourselves.
Myth: People stop masturbating when they are in a relationship.
One of the ways we experience the gift of sex is through the act of self-touch. Masturbation is a perfectly normal and natural way of learning about our bodies and giving ourselves pleasure. Almost everyone masturbates, even when they have a sexual partner. Masturbation is the first sexual act most of us experience, and most of us continue the practice into adulthood and throughout our lives. Masturbation not only feels good, but it can also improve our other sexual encounters. By exploring our own bodies, we learn what feels good to us and we can share that information with our partner. It can be awkward to try to find those pleasant sensations with a partner when we really don't even know what we're trying to accomplish. When we have explored our own bodies and know our own unique responses, we can share that with our partner and find that sex is better than ever.
Myth: Men are always ready for sex.
This myth is perpetuated everywhere we look. Even research is more focused on male performance than on male desire. The truth is: men are not always ready to go. Men are not sex machines in perpetual motion just waiting for their next opportunity to engage and explode. Men are sometimes not in the mood. A man's sexual desire has a lot to do with his own sense of self-worth, his emotional state, and his comfort with his partner. Sexual interest naturally comes and goes, it ebbs and flows. But because of this myth, men are much more likely to feel ashamed and afraid when they do not experience strong sexual desire.
Myth: Needing a vibrator is a sign of sexual problems.
A vibrator is the most common sex toy and many women need the direct, intense stimulation a vibrator provides in order to orgasm. That doesn't mean anything is wrong with her or with her partner. Some women can orgasm without a vibrator but it takes a longer time and they prefer to reach their climax without feeling the need to put in so much effort. A vibrator can be an important tool for discovering one's own pleasure centers (see masturbating above) and can be a playful toy for a couple to enjoy. A vibrator can only do one thing. A partner is still needed for kissing, holding, fondling and expressing words of longing and desire.
Myth: Sex addiction is all and only about sex.
Sex addiction is not so much about sex as it is about unresolved issues within the individual. There are generally underlying issues of shame and self-worth that fuel a need for outside affirmation. Responding to this acting out by heaping on additional layers of shame is not productive and in fact can contribute to the very problem that needs to be solved. Until those deeper underlying issues are addressed and healed, the "addictive" behavior is likely to continue.
Myth: People stop having sex as they age.
In our society sex is paired with idealized and airbrushed images of "perfect" bodies and bright, agile minds. We worry about sex between teenagers. We celebrate sex between young couples. But we expect that sexual activity will go away as we age, as we become less attractive. We assume that old people stop having sex altogether. As baby boomers age, they are not inclined to let society dictate their sexual lives and people are staying active well into their golden years. A bigger concern is the outbreak of sexually transmitted illnesses (STIs) in assisted living facilities where condoms are not required to prevent pregnancy.
Myth: No one who cheats wants to be caught.
There are two primary reasons that people have affairs. One is to have an affair. The person plans to keep it a secret and continue to live their "normal" life as though nothing has changed, while seeking affirmation or excitement or some other unmet need. But many people (particularly women) have affairs because they want to be caught. They want the affair to call attention to the problems in the marriage or they want the affair to be the catalyst that ends the marriage so that they can move on. Sometimes they need the assurance of a new relationship before they feel they can leave an unhappy one. Either way, affairs tend to happen when a partner cannot find the fortitude to talk to their partner about the honest state of their relationship.
Myth: Men and women reach their sexual peak at different ages.
It's true that men reach their highest testosterone level around 18 and women reach their highest estrogen level in their late 20s, but hormonal level and fertility are very different from one's sexual peak. The age of one's sexual peak is different for everybody. We are in our sexual prime when we feel the most comfortable having sex. This happens when we feel good about ourselves, our bodies and our relationship. These stereotypes can actually delay sexual peak by making men feeling pressured into accumulating a lot of sexual experience early and making women feel pressured women into feeling they cannot express their sexuality when they are young. Ultimately confidence is brings us to our personal sexual prime.
The most important thing we can all learn regarding the truth about sex is that it is an individual experience. There is no one-size-fits-all path to sexual satisfaction. Our sexuality is as individual as we are. Regardless of our age, our gender identity, our sexual orientation, our physical and developmental abilities, or our marital status, sex is meant to be a joyous experience, not a performance.
Barbara Lee, "The Sex Minister" and author of Sacred Sex: Replacing the Marriage Ethic with a Sexual Ethic, coaches individuals and organizations around the world in making healthy sexual choices.