5 Sex Myths to Unlearn
Do you have beliefs about sex and sexuality that bring you down or hold you back? Sex educator Logan Levkoff reveals 5 myths that many of us were taught, so we can unburden ourselves ASAP.
As a sex educator, I frequently ask people to think about their own sex education and the messages that they received about sex and sexuality. I must admit, it’s strategic. It’s my way of getting you all to realize that we can’t raise future generations of sexually “healthier” people if we don’t identify what’s been messing us up in the first place.
And let’s be honest, there’s a LOT that has been messing us up. Most obviously, there’s the fact that the sex education you received in school (if you got any at all) was probably pretty incomplete and less than inclusive. It probably was cis-heteronormative and more focused on instilling fear of pregnancy or STIs than in teaching you about your body, pleasure and consent. (It that wasn’t your experience, consider yourself lucky!). Even today, students in many states receive “abstinence-only” sex ed, which isn’t education at all. It’s a moralistic program designed to shame rather than teach.
Beyond what you learned, or didn’t, in formal sex education, you picked up a lot of beliefs about sex outside of the classroom — from parents, peers, media and more. You may not even realize how many beliefs about sex you’re carrying around that came from biased or untrustworthy sources, and there’s a good chance some of these beliefs are holding you back when it comes to exploring and expressing our sexuality.
But I am a big believer that there is always a path forward, even if it might be challenging to undo some of these old, problematic statements. Many of us have lived with these unhealthy models and messages for so long that we’ve actually internalized them, instead of identifying them and kicking them to the curb.
Now let’s be honest, this is certainly not an exhaustive list. This is just the tip of the iceberg. While I’ll debunk them here, what I think is equally important, is thinking about how we might perpetuate them, deliberately or inadvertently. So as you read these, ask yourself: “Who told me this?” “Did it serve me well?” “What would have been a more helpful message?”
Myth: “Good girls” shouldn’t be sexy or provocative.
I don’t know how many people need to hear this (I’m going to guess that it’s a lot), but the good/bad binary doesn’t apply to sexual expression. People aren’t “good” because they cover up. They’re not “bad” for showing skin. Clothes (or lack thereof) don’t magically make you do sexual things with their body.
This has always been an impossible proposition because you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Seriously. If you wear too many clothes, you’re considered a “prude,” too little and you’re a “tease.” My point is, people may talk crap either way (or they may not even notice what you’re wearing at all) so it’s time to nix the whole thing. It’s meaningless. I would much rather live in a world where people felt empowered and confident with their bodies and decided (on their own) how to best express that confidence.
Myth: You should only have sex with people you love.
Disclaimer: some of you may believe this. I have no problem with that. If you believe that sharing your body with someone requires a partnership based in love, that may be right for you.
However, what frustrates me is the shame that some people feel when they do choose to share their bodies with partners who they may not love. Some people enjoy sex more when it’s connected to love or emotional intimacy, others can take pleasure in experiences with people they barely know. As long as it’s positive and consensual (and ideally pleasurable), one type of sex isn’t superior to the other. Whatever type of sexual connections you prefer, we should never make others feel shame about their sexual decisions. It would be far more beneficial to think about what kind of partner/ship would make us feel secure enough to engage in and take the most pleasure from sexually intimate behaviors, regardless of whether or not you are “in love.” Besides, “love” means different things to different people.
Myth: Boys and men always want sex, it’s up to a woman to determine how far to go…or not.
A woman’s role in sex isn’t gatekeeper, it’s equal partner. I should stop there, but I’ll continue. Embedded in this belief is an assumption that women never want sex and men always do. (And yes, obviously this is chock full of heterosexism, too.) Suggesting that women need to be responsible for how far you go sexually takes all responsibility away from men. It says men can go as far as they want until a woman says “no.” That’s not communication and it’s certainly not consent, which is an active and ongoing process.
Myth: If you have sex with too many people, you won’t be wanted as a monogamous partner.
This “What’s Your Number?” thing is annoying. Our past experiences are not for others to judge. In fact, I would say that the people we are today is the result of our past experiences. If you like us now, well, then you can’t really be an asshole about the number of partners we may have had. If you’re threatened by a partner’s sexual past, may I offer two pieces of advice: People aren’t inherently good or bad lovers. They either listen to their partners’ needs and try to fulfill them, or they don’t. And if you are threatened by your partner’s past, be honest about it. A good partner should never make you feel badly about “too little” experience either.
Myth: The ideal sexual person has a particular look, weight, grooming, blah blah blah.
No, just no. We tend to be our own critics. It’s unlikely anybody ever said this to you out loud, but you may have picked it up from the media and our culture more broadly. Nobody and no body is more or less deserving of great sex than any other.
I’m not naive; I don’t expect for all of these things to change overnight. But I am an optimist and I’m hoping that the more we challenge these old belief systems, the more likely we are to change how we see ourselves and others.
About the Author
An internationally recognized expert on sexuality and relationships, Dr. Logan Levkoff is an author and educator dedicated to perpetuating healthy and positive messages about sexuality and relationships and encouraging honest conversation about sexuality and the role it plays in our culture. As a thought leader in the field of human sexuality and personal relationships, Logan frequently appears on television including Good Morning America, The Today Show, and CNN. Logan is an AASECT Certified Sex Educator and Sex Educator Supervisor and served on the AASECT Board of Directors. She received her Ph.D. in Human Sexuality, Marriage, and Family Life Education from New York University and holds an M.S. in Human Sexuality Education.
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