5 Harmful Myths We Believe About Sex

In Relationships by Kelsey Nimmo, MA, LPC, LLMFT

As a sex therapist, one of the first things I tell other therapists is that clients need way more education than we think they do when it comes to sex. Actually, let’s broaden that to say clients and therapists need more information.

“The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know” – Einstein

If you ask around, you’ll discover that most people probably know very little about sex. Perhaps you included. The problem with knowing little is that we don’t know what we don’t know so instead, we tend to think we know a lot. 

Working with clients, I’ve discovered that these things we think we know – these myths about sex – turn out to be extremely harmful for us. They create unrealistic expectations, feelings of inadequacy, judgments towards ourselves and our partners, and they stifle our ability to create a pleasurable sexual relationship with our partners.

SEXUAL MYTHS THAT ARE DESTROYING OUR RELATIONSHIPS

1. Bigger is better.

The porn industry has been misleading in its representation of desire, arousal, and sexual experience pretty much as an all-around rule. One example of this is the myth that a larger penis will create more pleasure for the partner. In actuality, even a quick google search (which clearly leads us to the most reliable information these days) will show that the top complaints for women about their male partners during sex have nothing to do with anatomy. While the importance of length of penis has a weak argument (even anatomically),  some studies suggest the circumference (or girth) of the penis can contribute to sexual satisfaction. But after working with hundreds of couples on improving their sex lives, neither thin nor short penises have ever been mentioned by my clients as a barrier to ecstatic sexual pleasure. Could size be more important to same sex partners? Not from what my couples tell me.

2. Men always want sex.

The climate in our culture these days is hard for everybody – men included. This is not said to embark on a political debate; this is a pattern I’m hearing from my male clients. They don’t know what masculinity is anymore.

We expect men to be:

  • physically capable – athletic modern “lumber jacks” with designer flannel shirts and large muscles
  • socially presentable – fitted jeans, trimmed beards, recently showered
  • intelligent – trendy glasses, well-read, college degree
  • financially secure – high-paying, well-respected white-collar job
  • mechanically minded – handy for all home repairs and outdoor projects
  • dominant – decision maker and assertive
  • emotional -gentle, able to empathize and listen

We want them to be one thing externally, another thing internally, another in relation to their partners, and another professionally. Whoa. Tall order.

Oh, and we want them to be tall.

Believing the myth that men always want sex doesn’t allow the men in our culture to be able to identify with their own masculinity. If men want sex and I don’t want it all the time, what kind of man am I? What if my female partner wants it more than I do? 

Believing that men want sex all the time is harmful to men and harmful to relationships. Let’s maybe try to switch to something like: most people want sex sometimes.

3. Sex = Intercourse.

Whenever clients start talking to me about sex, I ask them to define “sex” for me. Usually they look at me like I’m crazy. You call yourself a sex therapist, lady? Yeah, okay.

But here’s the thing. Limiting our definition of sex to intercourse alone is incredibly harmful to our sex lives. It takes away our full menu of sexual behaviors and our capacity for sexual pleasure and it forces us to choose from the dollar menu – and you know none of those are super great.

We also tend to limit our definition of foreplay, but more on that one later.

In her wonderful book Becoming Cliterate, Laurie Mintz teaches us that the vast majority of women cannot orgasm from penetration alone. Almost all of us require clitoral stimulation alone or paired with other types of touch to reach climax. 

4. If I’m good at sex, I’ll be able to make my partner orgasm.

Speaking of climax, how many of you have felt personally defeated when you couldn’t “make your partner cum”? You might think you need more practice or better technique. Maybe you want to read Becoming Cliterate mentioned above (definitely read it). Maybe you decide you’ll go for longer next time or light some candles.

I know this may shock you, but your partner has more factors that go into whether or not they will orgasm than just you.

Sexual functioning is far more complicated than just how we are touched. Women especially are very contextual creatures. There’s certainly a lot to learn but even if you learned it all, it’s important to remember that your partner is a whole other person with their own world of sexual functioning. Luckily, you aren’t responsible for all that.

Believing that you are, however, can create some negative consequences that could be harmful for your relationship. If you see yourself responsible and they don’t orgasm, you may experience guilt, shame, sadness, or anger. And because you don’t exist in a tiny bubble, these feelings will impact your partner – and may even get projected onto your partner.

Let me promise you this: if you feel guilty because your partner didn’t orgasm and you in any way project that guilt onto them, they are less likely to orgasm next time. We want our orgasms to be for ourselves, not for our partner. We want to own our orgasm. Don’t make this one about you.

Either way, this is a good reminder to check in with them about the factors that are related to you. Couples that talk about sex have better sex. And if you have no idea how to talk to your partner about sex, try some couples therapy.

5. The best sex is spontaneous.

This is the biggest and most harmful myth I hear from clients. People always seem to think sex should be spontaneous and that we had such great sex when we first started dating because we could just be spontaneous all the time. Now we plan for Tuesdays and that’s a problem.

Wrong. So wrong.

Truth: New dating sex isn’t amazing due to its spontaneity. New dating sex is amazing because it has endless foreplay and anticipation. Not sure what I mean?

When we are newly dating, foreplay is asking about work, waiting for a text back, planning dinner, picking out a restaurant, getting dressed, using Pinterest to try out a new hairstyle, telling our friends about our date, etc.

We build anticipation and we both know what we are going to do on that date.

How is that spontaneous? 

Spontaneity is hard to exist in long-term relationships where our world is based off of structure and routine. So it’s probably good news that we don’t need spontaneity to have good sex.

Instead, let’s try building anticipation. Let’s play around with foreplay. If sex is on Tuesdays when the kids are at grandma’s, let’s plan dinner, a restaurant, an outfit, a hairstyle. Let’s tell our friends. Let’s talk about what we are going to do after that date.

Not spontaneous… but all kinds of sexy.

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To set up an appointment with Kelsey, email her at kelsey@kzootherapy.com or contact her here: