7 Sex Lessons I Learned Growing Up That Were Totally False
When I heard my peers talking about sex as a teen and preteen, I often found myself thinking, “I hope that’s not true!” They made sex sound like a favor women did for men, and often an unpleasant one. The good news is, most of it did turn out to be complete BS. The bad news is, people are still learning it.
The issue largely stems from the fact that many people are getting their sex education either from porn or from other people who have gotten their sex ed from porn. “The issue is not porn,” Make Love Not Porn creator Cindy Gallup, tells Bustle. “The issue is this total absence in our society of an open, honest, healthy conversation around sex in the real world, which if it were had, people would then bring a real-world mind set when they view what is essentially artificial entertainment.”
In addition, many of us don't grow up with any alternative sources of information. Only 24 U.S. states require sex education, and students around the world report that sex ed is behind the times and not inclusive. This can lead people to learn and internalize many misconceptions about sex.
These are some of the things I learned and internalized myself that I hope others do not.
1. Sex Is For A Man
Unfortunately, I didn’t hear many accounts of women enjoying sex growing up. Instead, I heard adults tell subtle jokes about women owing their partners sex or having to tolerate it, and my peers gossiped about girls in school who performed sexual favors for boys.
I masturbated, so I knew I was capable of enjoying sex, but it seemed that my enjoyment would not be of concern to my partners. This did bear out in a few college hookups, but thankfully, I learned that a partner who really cares about you will want sex to be a two-way street. If we had better sex education, we wouldn’t have to learn this the hard way.
2. Sex Has To Hurt If You Have A Vulva
A lot of my friends warned me that sex would hurt the first time I did it. Yet nobody talked about how to prevent that. It was almost as if it were an honor to make that sacrifice for someone. Yet it didn’t feel like one; it felt scary and unfair that I should have to suffer so my partner could experience what was apparently the ultimate pleasure.
When I did have intercourse for the first time, I was relieved to discover that it did not hurt, probably because I had already penetrated myself with fingers and sex toys at my own pace. And that was not difficult to do. Why don’t we teach all people to do this? Probably because of a patriarchal narrative that says “popping your cherry” is a rite of passage that gives a partner ownership over you. People with vulvas are physically suffering because of this outdated narrative.
3. Orgasms Are Mandatory For Men But Optional For Women
Even at a young age, I heard a lot of talk about male orgasms. Magazines taught women the best ways to get men off, and kids in school cracked jokes about “spitting” and “swallowing.” Female orgasms weren’t talked about, and the media portrayed them as an elusive bonus that might occasionally happen during intercourse — on the way to a man’s orgasm.
There was little discussion of how to actively pursue an orgasm or an acknowledgement that most women can and do orgasm consistently if they receive the right kind of stimulation. I spent years assuming regular orgasms were too much to ask until I got up the confidence to ask for what I needed, and once I did, I realized the goal of having an orgasm every time you have sex is really not too ambitious.
4. Orgasms Should Happen During Intercourse
While female orgasms were not deemed essential or all that feasible, the few that managed to grace us were supposed to happen during intercourse. When magazines had orgasm advice, it was usually about intercourse positions that were supposed to help you get there, implying that if no position worked for you, there was something wrong with you and/or it was your fault.
I used to think that if I didn't orgasm through intercourse, I just wouldn't orgasm, until thankfully I found a partner who viewed clitoral stimulation as equally important. The same way a male partner wouldn't be expected to orgasm without attention to the penis, those with vulvas should not be forced to try (and likely fail) to orgasm without any attention to the clitoris.
5. Sex Means Penis-In-Vagina
When my friends explained the bases to me, everything besides PIV intercourse seemed like mere preparation for a “home run.” Other acts were either foreplay before intercourse, or they were a less exciting substitute if you weren’t ready to have intercourse yet (in which case, you risked being labeled a “prude” who wouldn’t “put out”).
But when I actually started having sex, I realized that this act is not superior to the others — in fact, for me (and most people with vulvas), it’s less likely to lead to an orgasm. Plus, not all sex involves a penis and a vagina! Sex is no less meaningful or significant just because you’re queer or prefer something other than PIV.
6. You Should Only Be Sexual In A Relationship
The few times adults or older peers talked to me about sex, they emphasized that it should only occur within a serious relationship to "avoid getting hurt" because "girls get attached." This stereotype is sexist and untrue — not all women get attached, and there are plenty of men who do.
Even worse were the warnings that if I had sex too soon, my partner wouldn't want to be in a relationship with me, because "why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?" But women are not commodities, and I would hope that anyone who wanted a relationship with me would not be entering into it just to "buy" sex. A woman's worth does not decrease when she has sex, and what determines the quality of a sexual encounter is not whether two people are in a relationship but how respectful they are toward each other.
7. Men Are More Sexual
As a girl who masturbated from a young age and then was very interested in sex, often more than my male partners, I found the idea that women are less interested in sex very alienating. In fact, before I began talking to friends about sex and realizing there were others like me, I felt like a freak. The truth is that many women are just as sexual as or more sexual than men.
In the cases where the stereotype does appear to have some truth (e.g. men reporting masturbating more), there are cultural reasons for this (like men learning earlier about masturbation). Plus, women don't feel as comfortable being sexual because we're taught that if we're sexual, we're in danger. Telling people that women are naturally more sexual obscures all the societal influences that make women reluctant to be sexual.
Fortunately, since then, I've learned much more empowering things about sex. Where sex ed has been lacking (and it has been very lacking), sites like Scarleteen and O.School have picked up the slack. If what you've learned about sex smacks of sexism to you, trust yourself on that — there are better sources of information and more supportive people out there.