As a ‘90s kid, everything I learned about sex came from peeking at magazines in the grocery store checkout line, Catholic sex education, and abstinence-only instruction from my biology class in ninth grade. For a long time, I genuinely believed fantastic foreplay was merely letting an ice cube melt in my mouth before going down on my high school boyfriend — cringe. Years later, these flawed theories became the very sex myths that I would be able to debunk as a certified relationship coach trained in sex and intimacy. It set me on a path to understanding the nuances of sexuality and romantic relationships in a way that wasn’t shrouded in shame and limitation. The more I dialed into the sexual expression of my pleasure, the more I realized the power of knowledge and the importance of sexual education centered on intentional dialogue.
When learning about sex, it can be confusing to sort through all of the misconceptions floating around to find credible, sex-positive information. So, I pulled together a list of common misconceptions I hear about and consulted fellow sex experts to demystify what’s fact and what’s really fiction. Here are 10 common sex myths that you probably learned about (that are totally wrong).
Myth #1: Sex Is Just Like Porn
Jess O’Reilly, Ph.D., a sexologist and host of the podcast Sex With Dr. Jess, tells Elite Daily that porn can be exciting to watch as a form of entertainment — but it doesn’t necessarily translate to what sex is really like IRL. Although porn can serve as inspo for twisty, acrobatic-level bedroom moves, it shouldn’t be used as a template to fuel expectations about sex. “Porn isn’t intended to be your source of sex education,” Reilly explains. “Porn is a primarily visual medium. It leaves out the parts that happen behind the scenes — from discussions about desires and boundaries to safer sex practices and relational elements.”
As a whole, porn isn’t bad to watch in moderation (and there are many forms of ethical porn out there), but keep in mind that it usually doesn’t capture the sweet, awkward vulnerability that can happen when you’re in a truly intimate setting. After all, it’s not reality. Remember: Sex isn’t always about achieving the picture-perfect romp in bed, but instead, it’s about cultivating closeness with your partner and feeling good together. If you’ve done that, then it’s good sex. Period.
Myth #2: Penis Size Matters
Although many people believe that size matters during sex, let me set the record straight. It’s not true. Reilly explains that porn and other societal messages often depict penises as universally large and always hard, which isn’t the case. Believing or perpetuating those stereotypes can contribute to harmful messages, body shame, and insecurity. “The reality is that penises come in all shapes and sizes. You don’t need a rock-hard erection to enjoy sex — for you or your partner,” Reilly says. The adage that “size doesn’t matter, it’s how you use it” tends to ring true.
On that note, sex isn’t just about P-in-V penetration, either. What matters is pleasure, whether you’re exploring on your own or with someone else. “You can enjoy sex without orgasm,” Reilly adds. “There are so many other ways to enjoy pleasure beyond the penis and penetration; from toys, fingers, lips, and tongues to dirty talk, role play, fantasy, and BDSM.”
Myth #3: Men Are Always Ready For Sex
Not only is this popular sex myth blatantly false, but the idea that men are always down for sex is rooted in patriarchy and damaging to people of all genders. “Your gender identity, hormones, and genitals alone don’t determine your sex drive,” Reilly says. Plus, the blanket statement that men are always ready for sex can lead to feelings of emasculation and pretty unrealistic expectations. For example, some men may push forward to have sex even if they’re not in the mood — therefore, not being able to truly give enthusiastic consent.
Additionally, Reilly points out that sexual desire is highly complex, individual, and influenced by a range of factors including, but not limited to: mood, health, sleep, diet, exercise, relationship dynamics, medications, and more. “This is why talking about sexual desire and frequency is essential regardless of gender and sexual orientation,” she says.
A 2021 study published in Science Direct revealed that men's and women’s brains are actually quite similar when it comes to verbal, spatial, and emotional processing. And according to Reilly, research has repeatedly shown that men desire affection, cuddling, and foreplay as much as women do. “They may be less likely to express emotions due to cultural prescriptions entrenched in gender expectations, but research with brain activity and other physiological responses suggests that their experience of emotional response is just as intense,” she adds.
Myth #4: The First Time You Have Penetrative Sex, It’ll Hurt & You’ll Bleed
The concept of virginity is a social construct and as such, it comes with plenty of myths associated with purity and sex — which are rooted in heteronormative ideals. “The myth that you’ll bleed the first time you have penetrative sex is rooted in the myth of virginity, specifically if you have a vagina,” Reilly says.
Nicole Prause, a sexual psychophysiologist at UCLA who researches online disinformation, actually says it’s more common for women not to experience pain during intercourse. “This is a case where the myth itself may potentiate or cause pain because it can cause a woman to become more nervous prior to sex.” So if you’re feeling pain during sex, it might come down to a number of factors: arousal, fear, or a medical condition like endometriosis or vaginismus.
If you’re feeling uncomfortable with your first time having penetrative sex or otherwise, Reilly recommends stopping, pulling back, and getting more turned on so that your muscles can relax and your mind is more at ease before trying again. Foreplay is your friend. “You’ll also want to use as much lube as you’d like to keep things nice and slippery,” she advises.
If you’re noticing bleeding during sex, it may be due to a number of factors such as coming off of a dry spell, lack of lubrication, or nerves — all of which are normal. If you notice that bleeding is consistent or that sex is painful in any way, it can help to consult a gynecological care provider.
Myth #5: A Vagina Can Stretch From Too Much Sex
When you’re turned on, your vagina lubricates itself and your muscles relax so the vagina canal can “stretch” and comfortably accommodate a penis, fingers, or a sex toy. But once you’re done with the sexual activity, laxity returns, and the vagina goes back to the way it was before your arousal state. Therefore, someone having a “loose” vagina from “too much sex” is a myth.
“The vagina does not become ‘stretched’ due to intercourse experience, but can become lax due to injury,” Prause explains. “The most common injuries occur during childbirth, but also are possible with risky sexual acts, such as using an extremely large [sex] toy forcefully and/or without sufficient sexual arousal prior to its use.”
Myth #6: Scissoring Isn’t A Real Thing
Let’s be clear: Despite some people calling it a myth, scissoring is totally a thing. Scissoring is when two people with vaginas face each other and rub their clitorises against each other. The position resembles a pair of scissors — hence the name — and is a common way for folks in the LGBTQ+ community to enjoy sex.
While the position is certainly achievable, there are also plenty of other ways LGBTQ+ folks can have sex that don’t necessarily involve scissoring. “You could scissor if you wanted to — and many of us enjoy rubbing and grinding against a partner’s thigh or other body part,” Reilly says. “But the idea that two vulvas must rub together as the legs open up like scissors illustrates how little folks know about the ways in which folks with vulvas have sex.”
The bottom line: Scissoring is totally real, and can be super hot. But it’s far from the only way LGBTQ+ people can have sex — nor is it a purely performative act made up for porn. Like any other sex position, it’s all about finding what feels fun, safe, and empowering for you and your body, which will look different for everyone.
Myth #7: Sex Impacts Athletic Performance
There’s been a lot of confusion and debate about athletes abstaining from sex to stay at optimal levels. Consider the myth and all of that locker room talk busted. A 2003 study published in The National Library of Medicine found that an orgasm doesn't impact testosterone levels and if there are any fluctuations, the impacts were minimal. Reilly points out that new research has since revealed sex has a positive correlation with mood, energy, cognitive functioning, and relational health, all factors which support athletic performance.
“Many of the concerns around sex impeding athletic performance have to do with some of the behaviors associated with having sex (e.g. staying up late); if you don’t sleep well, it can adversely affect athletic performance. However, the flip side is that sex can help to induce a good night’s sleep — which can enhance athletic performance,” she says. So, what should you do? Reilly recommends doing what’s best for your individual body. If sex makes you feel better, do it. If you want to abstain, that’s totally OK, too.
Myth #8: If You Don’t Pee Before And After Sex, You’ll Get A UTI
This is one sex myth that has some validity to it. Prause explains that urinating before and after sex is an important part of prevention — however, there are no guarantees that it’ll 100% eliminate the possibility of a UTI. “Even if your genitals are ‘clean,’ the friction during sex forces bacteria into the urethra due to its proximity to the vagina, and nothing can prevent that from occurring,” she says.
Dr. Carolyn DeLucia, an NYC-based OB-GYN, previously told Elite Daily that if you don’t use the bathroom when you need to, the bacteria may lead to a bladder infection. To increase your chances of skipping a visit to your gynecologist and cover your bases with UTI prevention, Planned Parenthood recommends using condoms during vaginal sex, hydrating by drinking a lot of water, and peeing as soon as you have to.
Myth #9: Being “Good At Sex” Is About Nailing The Right Moves
Have you ever heard someone boast about a spicy move they had in bed? Hold off before dropping your pants, because there’s more to sex than that. According to Prause, the ability to please someone in bed goes beyond skill or doing a specific set of “moves.” Intimacy and connection are equally as important. “I always say the best way to know someone will be ‘bad’ in bed is if they tell you, ‘I am good in bed,’” she says. “The reason is that everyone’s sexual preferences vary. Assuming you have moves that are universal makes clear that you will not be asking questions and taking your partner’s preferences into account.”
What really makes someone “good” at sex is their ability to blend physical and emotional intelligence together — meaning, you’re attuned to your partner’s erotic experience and doing whatever you can to invite in more pleasure, which can look like fantasy-sharing or active communication. So, put down the Kama Sutra book or the Call Her Daddy sex tips if you’re looking to up your game. All you need to do is bring a high level of presence and sincerity to the sexual experience, communicate with your partner, and you’ll be golden.
Myth #10: People In Polyamorous Relationships Are Inherently Promiscuous
It’s a common assumption that people in polyamorous relationships harbor commitment issues and use the “flexible” paradigm as a way to cheat on their partners. Chalk it up to the unfortunate stigma and lack of understanding about ethical non-monogamous partnerships, but this sex myth is simply not true. Monogamy and polyamory are similar in that both require transparent communication, honesty, and ongoing consent, but with polyamory, the partnerships are constantly defined and redefined as new partners enter the fold. Just because the relationships look different doesn’t mean that someone is more sexually promiscuous than the other.
In fact, a 2018 study published by the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships studied 340 participants and found that people in consensual, ethical non-monogamous relationships reported the same levels of satisfaction, psychological well-being, and sexual satisfaction as those in monogamous relationships. Poly people believe love is expansive and can happen with multiple individuals; the idea is that the guidelines of the relationship have already been firmly negotiated and established in advance to ensure that all parties are comfortable.
There are lots of sex myths circulating out there, but luckily, it’s easier than ever to discover the truth so you feel safe and protected during sex. When in doubt, lean on the fundamentals: Talk to someone you trust, do what feels right for you, stick to your values, and let your body be the guide to explore whatever works best for you.
Nicole Prause, licensed psychologist and sexual psychophysiologist at UCLA
Dr. Carolyn DeLucia, an NYC-based OB-GYN