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Lies We're Told About Sex

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Updated May 05, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Lies We're Told About Sex
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The messages we receive about sex from our parents, the media, and our educational, social, and religious institutions tend to be contradictory, and often downright false. One way to combat the lies we’re told about sex is to start cataloging them.

Lie #1: Sex is all in the genes:  We are puppets, lucky to be getting our strings pulled now and then.
Because procreation is tied to our species survival, evolutionary scientists and pop psychologists alike argue that the most important understanding of sexuality is the one that links our sexual behavior to procreation. Thus we are told that male sexuality is voracious and dangerous, that female sexuality is a side effect of the need for women to have babies, and that the psychological, emotional, and spiritual aspects of sexuality are not as important as the genetic ones. And most disaterously, from the earliest lessons about sex, it's always tied to reproduction.  Of course there is a genetic component to sex, but that doesn’t mean that it is either the most useful, or “truest” perspective from which to think about our sexuality.

Lie #2: Sex is natural and simple: You should just know how to do it.
Sex is natural, we’re told, because we have to do it to survive. But this doesn’t accurately describe what human sexuality has become. Intercourse may be instinctual for some (but clearly not all) of us, but sexuality is much more than intercourse, and none of it actually comes easily. It’s it strange that we are taught how to perform most other basic human behaviors (how to eat, how to communicate, how to go to the bathroom) and as we get older we learn the more complicated ones (how to read, write, drive a car, work) and yet we’re just supposed to know how to have sex.

Lie #3: Sex is gender: Men are from sex-crazed Mars; women are from soft and romantic Venus.
This lie takes many forms:

  • Women just want to cuddle, men want to have raunchy sex.
  • Women are sexual communicators, men can’t talk about their sexual feelings.
  • ”Real sex” takes place between a man and a woman.
  • Men and women can’t ever be friends, sex always gets in the way.
  • Men want sex all the time, and women don’t.
  • Men are more visual than women when it comes to sexual arousal.

All of these are variations on the big double-shot sex lie: That sex is 100% tied to our gender, and each of us can fit neatly into one of two categories.  The fact is that how we think about, feel about, and actually have sex is infinitely more complicated than which door we walk through in a public washroom.

Lie #4: Sex is spontaneous: Don’t talk about it, just do it.
When you think of it, this lie about sex doesn’t make any sense. If sex is meant to be something fun and exciting, something that makes you feel good about your body and yourself, makes you feel loved and attended to, why would planning for sex ever be a bad thing? Wouldn’t it actually be nice to know you’re going to get to have sex at the end of a particularly hard day? Yet we’re told that the most exciting sex is the sex that “just happens”. In reality, sex rarely “just happens”. It’s true that many couples never talk about sex beforehand, but that doesn’t mean that one (or more likely both) partners aren’t thinking about it, wondering when they’re going to have it next, and fantasizing about what kind of sex it will be.

Lie #5: Bigger is better, more is better…better is better.
These statements are true for some people, some of the time. The specific lie we’re told is that these things are true for everyone, all of the time. In reality people have size preferences that change depending on their mood and what sort of sex they want to have. Similarly, we all have different levels of sexual desire, and these levels can change throughout the month, and over the years. Finally, there is a more contemporary lie that tells us we should always be reaching for better sex, trying new things, pushing ourselves and our partners to attain new heights of great sex. Some researchers have pointed out that this competitive attitude can have the opposite effect, making us anxious and on edge about the sex we’re having.

Lie #6:  Sex is special: It’s a rare transformative moment that only comes once in a while.
On one hand, it’s true that sex can be transformative and that some of us don’t get to have sex as often as we’d like, but on the other hand, sex is an incredibly common and regular occurrence. Yet many of us are raised to think of sex like it’s a non-renewable resource that’s about to dry up. If instead we put sex in its place among all our other activities of daily living and all the ways we communicate with the people around us, we might have a lot less anxiety about how we’re doing it, when we’re doing it, if we’re doing it right, and who we’re doing it with. Sex doesn’t need to be treated with kid gloves, it can take it, if we start to dish it out.

Lie #7: We can make it on our own: Sexual agency is the same as sexual independence.
We can thank the mostly positive influence of the women’s movement on sexual expression for this subtle lie. What’s true is that we all have a right to sexual agency -- to experience sexual pleasure on our own terms, think sexual thoughts, and have sexual desires separate from those around us. But the silent lie is that sexual agency equals complete independence. In truth, none of us are completely independent from those around us, and we rely on others in ways few of us acknowledge. Among the few people who have managed to really figure this out are folks living with disabilities who require assistance with regular daily activities. When you rely on others for some form of help, it becomes very apparent the way we are all connected. If you don’t, you can go through life imagining that you’d be fine without anyone around. Yet even masturbation, which is often fueled by sexual fantasy, requires some external stimulation (even if you’re only dreaming of the UPS guy or gal, they’re still involved to some extent).

Lie #8:  There’s a right way and a wrong way to have sex.
Whether we’re being told we have to do it with someone else (masturbation isn’t “real” sex), we have to do it with someone of the opposite sex, we have to do it in a bed, 2.5 times a week, or some other form of this lie, there are no lack of people who want to feed you the lie that there is only one (or two) right ways to have sex. The truth is that there are no rules (beyond age and consent) to how you can have healthy and fun sex. Whenever you catch someone feeding you this lie, call them on it.

Lie #9: Great sex is all about…
Is it about sexual technique? Is it sexual communication? Is it the “spark”, or the bed sheets, or the sex toys, or the weather system? Amazon lists over 150 books with great sex in the title, each one offering you an endless stream of advice on what constitutes great sex. It’s no lie that great sex can be had, but the lie is that one person’s great sex will be your great sex. Great sex probably isn’t like a great chocolate chip cookie recipe, which works best if you follow the directions to the letter. Learning more about sex can probably only add to your experience of good sex, but in the absence of any proof, I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that great sex happens in the way you uniquely put it all together, not in following a step by step guide book written by someone whose main goal is to sell you a book.

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