Having grown up in an all-girls Catholic school, I never had the most medically-accurate guidance when it came to sex. Apparently, conservative nuns weren’t the most credible sources, and their only real tip was “abstinence or die.” At some point, shouting “penis” became equivalent to some sort of rebellious statement—as if saying it out loud meant that god himself would come down from heaven to slap you on the wrist. As a result, we’ve been bombarded with some truly ridiculous sex myths that have made it difficult to separate fact from fiction. And it doesn’t help that there are all too many old wives’ tales and anecdotes from judgmental relatives ready to fill that knowledge gap. Can you really not get pregnant if you’re on your period? Is there something wrong with you if you can’t achieve the big O?
Below, we break down some of the most common misconceptions we’ve all heard, and the truths behind each one of them.
Believe it or not, there’s actually a scientific term for the “pull-out method” called coitus interruptus, which basically entails a penis withdrawing from the vagina right before ejaculation. According to Planned Parenthood, about 27 out of 100 women who rely on this method get pregnant annually. It’s a much higher possibility than condoms and birth control pills, both of which only cause two or less pregnancies out of 100 couples every year (if used properly). Think of pulling out as an added layer of prevention against pregnancies; it’s most effective when used in combination with other contraceptives, such as the pill and/or condoms. Don’t rely on the pull-out method alone, because human error (and drunk, messy sex you only recall in fragments) is very much a thing.
Here’s a fun fact to break up the fake facts: The number one sex question people look up on Google is “where is the G-spot?” and is closely followed by “how to make a woman orgasm.” This age-old treasure hunt all started in the early ‘80s, when a team of researchers coined the term “G-spot” to describe a woman’s most sensitive tissue. Since then, men and women have searched high and low for this elusive bean, in the hopes of reaching sex nirvana. The G-spot is definitely real, but the Cosmopolitan headlines and locker room talks have been getting it wrong. It’s not a switch that goes off and automatically plays Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing.” Rather, the G-spot is a general “area” that could simply make women feel good. Moreover, pleasure isn’t a “one-size-fits-all.” Truthfully, some people get off more from a toe fetish, and that’s totally fine.
This is one math equation that’s almost as fabled as the G-spot. But no, you cannot tell a man’s penis length by the size of their hands or feet. For the most part, however, researchers have gathered that the average penis is about five inches long. All in all, there’s no way to find out unless you see it with your own eyes (no unsolicited dick pics, please).
The topic of period sex can be pretty divisive. For some people, it’s a normal part of their sex life, while others would rather avoid the possibility of sheets turning into horror movie bloodbaths. Whatever your stance is on “parting the Red Sea,” the fact remains that you can still get pregnant. Although it’s more unlikely to happen thanks to the way menstrual cycles work, sperm can still survive in a female’s body for up to five days. So it’s best to use proper birth control if you aren’t planning to get pregnant and if you want to avoid getting any infections.
The textbook definition of sex is heteronormative at best—that is, penis-in-vagina. But as we’re living in non-binary times, “real sex” has expanded far beyond what Merriam-Webster tells us. Mutual masturbation, “scissoring,” oral sex, and what-have-you—they all fall under the same umbrella, if only on varying levels. It even includes BDSM, phone sex, rimming (don’t Google this at work), and so much more. Sex is not restricted to penetrative intercourse, and we need to leave these deeply vanilla notions behind.
The biological and psychological perks of sex are well-documented—from giving your heart a cardio boost, to relieving stress. However, there’s no benchmark for how frequently you should be doing it to reap the benefits. Plus, not choosing to have sex at all doesn’t make you any less healthy. Desire fluctuates with context, so you should only be having sex according to what feels right for you—and this counts for couples too! If you and your partner are worried about not having enough sex, psychologists argue that it’s more important to explore why. A lack of intimacy could be a symptom of other underlying issues, like fighting or falling out of love. At the end of the day, great, satisfying sex that only happens every blue moon is far better than 100 half-hearted failed attempts in your car’s backseat.
Hollywood has pre-conditioned us with a bottomless supply of impossible ideals. For sex to be amazing, you have to somehow burst through someone’s apartment door while making out and knock over a few coat hangers on the way. Anything less than that is deemed too corny and should be left in a Nicholas Sparks novel. Although “burst-through-the-door” make-outs can indeed be fun, planning sex doesn’t have to be weird. If you want to talk to your partner and plan for a “special night,” then go for it—even if it means lighting up patchouli candles and preparing a playlist with Spandau Ballet (which is only, like, 70% cheesy). Open communication is healthy, people.
Some women may bleed the first time they have sex, but it reveals nothing about chastity or health. The hymen—which has long stood as the shining beacon for virginity—is actually just a bunch of tissues that cover the vagina. It can break down naturally over time, or even during non-sexual activities, like going ham during a Soul Cycle class or wearing a tampon. Other women can even be born without a hymen altogether, so don’t be worried if you don’t bleed on your first time.
Everyone wants sex that ends in fireworks, but an explosive climax (literally or figuratively) isn’t a universal performance metric. As we’ve mentioned time and again, sex and pleasure are different for everyone. There’s also a medical condition called anorgasmia, which means having difficulty in experiencing pleasure. It can be caused by medications like antidepressants, or even having a history of trauma. Additionally, there are other factors like sexual self-esteem and miscommunication with your partner that can get in the way. While that sounds like a bit of a bummer, you don’t have to write out condolence cards right away. You can still have orgasms in the future, and you can still enjoy sex in other ways—but that is something you’ll have to reconcile with on your own terms. As long as the sex is safe and consensual, you’re doing it right.
Perhaps the most controversial myth on this list is the concept of virginity, which, honestly, merits its own article entirely. But let’s start here: virginity is a social construct. Yes, it sounds like something straight out of a feminist playbook (and it is), but the whole virginity schtick stems from deep-rooted misogynistic ideals that dictate women as men’s property. I mean, we’ve all heard of the absurd saying “A key that can open many locks is called a master key, but a lock that can be opened by many keys is a shitty lock.” Such toxic statements have driven women to attach their worth to virginity, and how many people they sleep with. Meanwhile, men continue to equate every sexual partner as an added chevron on their insignia. So let’s get this straight, virginity is only important if it’s important to you. Whether or not you want to have sex is a personal choice, and no doctor, priest, over-bearing parent, or partner can tell you otherwise.