10 Biggest Misconceptions About Sex, Debunked By OB-GYNs & Sexperts
If you're sexually active, there will come a time where you end up bumping against the biggest misconceptions about sex. You'll be furiously Googling as you wonder what's fact and what's fiction. A lot of us know, for example, that the pull-out method is a "no" when it comes to contraception. (According to Planned Parenthood, it's only 78 percent effective at preventing pregnancy.) But do you have to use condoms all the time? And OK, what about if you're on hormonal birth control? (The answer to that is a resounding "yes!") There's a number of other aspects of sex that are shrouded in mystery, such as whether you can get pregnant having period sex (spoiler alert: it's not common,, but you still can if you have a vagina and are hooking up with someone with a penis) and if foreplay is really that important. There's also the question of STIs, how you can contract them, and what to keep in mind about them if you do.
And so it's time to shed some light on common myths about sex and blow away the fog that shrouds a lot of the mechanics of sex in mystery. Here are 10 misconceptions about sex that gynecologists, clinical sexologists, and fertility experts hear from their patients all the time.
Myth #1: Wearing a condom "most" of the time is OK.
Dr. Jennifer McBlaine, a clinical sexologist and sex therapist, says that her patients often misunderstand how easy it is to catch an STI. "Many patients believe if they miss wearing a condom one time that is OK, because the other nine times they had one on," McBlaine says. "A condom is like wearing a seatbelt in a car, except nothing beeps at you when you forget to buckle up."
Myth #2: STIs that aren't HIV can just be treated with antibiotics.
Brian Levine, practice director of fertility clinic CCRM-New York and writer for wellness site Verywell, says, "Even those infections that can be treated with antibiotics — such as gonorrhea or chlamydia — can lead to devastating irreversible damage to fallopian tubes, which are critically important when trying to get pregnant in the future." Levine also wants people to know that syphilis is on the rise and is hard to pin down in its earliest stages. "Lastly," Levine says. "Genital warts are a sexually transmitted infection, and they can require life-long anti-viral medication."
Myth #3: Pre-cum isn't as risky as regular semen.
This is a myth that plagues Dr. Mark Trolice, director of Fertility CARE: The IVF Center and associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at University of Central Florida. One myth that Trolice hears from patients is, "Pre-ejaculate is not as risky to conceive as the full ejaculate." On the contrary, Trolice says, "Pre-ejaculate prior to the male orgasm, while low in volume, has a high density of sperm." Pre-cum is a "definite risk for pregnancy if it occurs in the vagina at the time of ovulation," according to Trolice. So, again: It's crucial that your partner wears a condom during sex to prevent pregnancy!
Myth #4: Foreplay isn't important.
There are lots of ways to create that sizzle of anticipation. Sometimes, that can look like a serious makeout session and other times, that can look like getting creative with touch and erogenous zones. This is a problem that both McBlaine and Trolice have run into with patients. "Foreplay is to assist both people in getting ready for intercourse," McBlaine says. "Like the trailers before a movie." Taking your time before sex also adds to the intimacy of intercourse, McBlaine explains.
What's more is that even if patients do participate in foreplay, Trolice wants more people to know that it's more than just the physical. Emotional intimacy leading up to and during sex can make all the difference — especially if you and your sexual partner are in a romantic relationship. "It tells your partner they are loved. Foreplay helps emotional intimacy as well as physical and is vital for relationship health," Trolice says.
Myth #5: A clean vagina means it's bacteria-free.
Levine usually busts this myth for patients first by letting them know that a "healthy" vagina actually has lots of bacteria. They help fight off infections and maintain a normal pH level, which Levine says of critical importance. "Douching can disrupt this delicate balance, and lead to risk of infections, both bacterial and fungal," Levine explains. "And also lead to discomfort."
Dr. Evan Goldstein, founder of anal surgery practice Bespoke Surgical, says that the same goes for the anus. "Over-douching — cleaning too deep, with too much force, or with too much water — can cause problems," Goldstein says. "It can dry out your anus, which can lead to fissures, contracting STDs, and over time, to douche dependency and prolonged anal irritation." His solution is to do a quick rinse with bulb irrigation. "Less is more!"
Myth #6: Pain during sex is normal.
Painful vaginal intercourse can be a sign of "decreased lubrication," Levine says, which is typically the result of low estrogen. And that could potentially be a sign of ovarian problems. Painful vaginal intercourse is also associated endometriosis, which is when "the cells of the uterus are growing outside of the uterus inside the body." If it hurts, Levine says, go see a doctor! "No need to accept painful sex as the norm," Levine says.
Goldstein also wants to break down this myth, particularly when it comes to anal sex. "There’s a difference between discomfort and pain. The former is natural during the first few times, but the latter is a sign of possible injury." With proper practice (Goldstein recommends investing in an anal dilation kit), lots of lube, patience and trust in your partner, anal sex can be a pleasant experience.
Myth #7: You can't get pregnant if you pee after sex.
Another myth Trolice hears is, "If I urinate immediately after sex, I am less likely to conceive." And that simply isn't the case. Trolice explains, "Ejaculation results in millions of sperm quickly entering the reproductive tract. So, while semen may leak out of the vagina after intercourse, microscopic sperm are already on their way to finding the egg!" That's why it's super, duper important to use a condom during sex if you're sleeping with someone who can get you pregnant.
Myth #8: What you eat has no impact on reproductive health.
For people with vaginitis (vaginal discomfort) or who want to maintain a healthy vagina, Levine recommends fresh cheeses and yogurts with live and active cultures. He also mentions supplemental probiotics for bowel health, vitamin-E supplements, and foods that have "healthy" fats, like almonds.
Another pro-tip from Levine: "Don't forget about water a.k.a. hydration!" Levine compares the vagina to the inside of a mouth — if someone is thirsty and parched, their vagina probably is, too!
Myth #9: Sex just happens.
The myth McBlaine wants to debunk here is two-fold. One is that "sex just happens." Romantic or sexual attraction isn't enough for sex to happen without effort. "Sex is the only system in the human body that can be turned off, meaning the brain has just as much of [an] impact on whether sex does or does not happen," McBlaine says, as much as genitalia does.
Another myth McBlaine comes up against is that sex is supposed to be "spontaneous." But a lot times, post-honeymoon phase, sex isn't a priority like it used to be. If you've fallen into a sex rut with your partner, you can try adding in new elements to your bedroom encounters (like sprinkling in a dash of kink or mixing in sex-related apps). Or, you can coordinate with your partner and plan when you have sex.
"One common misconception I hear from patients about intercourse is it is supposed to be spontaneous," McBlaine says. "Intercourse after the honeymoon phase of the relationship — typically the first two years — has to be scheduled. Scheduled as in planned, because once the honeymoon phrase ends, people tend to overlook having intercourse." Although scheduling sex might not sound like the sexiest move you can make for your relationship, it can make all the difference when you're having the sex you want that you weren't getting!
Myth #10: You can just hop right into anal.
Rimming, a.k.a. eating *ss, before anal is not enough. "Unlike the vagina, the anus does not self-lubricate, which means you need lots of lube in order to successfully — read: minimizing injury and maximizing pleasure — have anal sex," Goldstein says. Spit doesn't work because it dries up quickly and therefore, doesn't last as long as lube does. Goldstein recommends silicone-based lubes because for "slickness and endurance." But if you're using silicone toys, he says, "Reach for the water-based stuff."
Likewise, you definitely cannot jump into anal sex before you're ready. You have to be careful. "Your sphincter is a muscle just like your biceps or your deltoids, which means that it must be exercised. Since we spend most of our time with our sphincter muscles clenched, we must train them to relax on demand," Goldstein says. Only then are the muscles ready to accept insertion. "Think of trying to bench press 200 pounds on your first try — it’s not going to work. But you can work up to that weight with proper practice," Goldstein explains. "The same goes for your *ss — start small and gradually increase the size until you hit the size you want."
If you've ever been confused about when to wrap up, agitated about anal, or concerned about your vagina, let the advice of these gynecologists, sexologists, and fertility experts ease your worry. Just be sure to swing by the store, and grab some condoms and lube so you can continue to hook up, stress-free.