Despite the sexual revolution, many of us remain uncomfortable around the topic of sexuality. As a result, there are a slew of myths that many continue to believe about sexuality. In this article, I will try to debunk some of them for you.
1. Men want sex more than women do. FALSE. Wanting sexual activity (desire) isn’t simply a function of gender. Other factors have a big influence, too. For example, women are more likely to do most of the housework on top of holding down a job. So they tend to be more tired when evening arrives! Plus, hormones can make women feel like having a lot of sex during certain times of the month, rather than all of the time. And, because women tend to attach different emotions to sex than men do, they aren’t going to beg for sexual activity if they are upset or angry with their partner. It appears that the function of sexual activity for women is more closely tied with feelings of attachment and closeness. Whereas for men, sexual activity has a more powerful “release” function than it does for women. Interestingly, Psychologist Barry McCarthy notes that when sexual activity begins to wane early in a relationship it is more often the man whose interest is reduced, contrary to popular opinion. An additional myth related to the above is that men think about sex every 7 seconds. This too, is false. According to a 1994 “Sex in America” survey, 54 percent of men think about sex every day or several times a day, 43 percent think about it a few times a week or month, and 4 percent think about it less than once a month.
2. Happy couples always have good sex. FALSE. No one always hits a homer in the bedroom. You could be in the best relationship and have an off night if one of you isn’t feeling well or is stressed. Psychologist Barry McCarthy says that many people are confused about what constitutes good sex because their standard is what they see on TV or in the movies where every couple always has mind-blowing, earth shattering simultaneous orgasms. Nothing could be farther from the truth for couples who consider their sex lives to be average to above average. He notes that about 10% of the time sex is really good for both partners. Another 40-50% of the time sex is “good enough” for both. About 10-15% of the time it is good enough for one and not so good for the other with the same amount in the opposite direction. Finally, about 10% of the time it’s not very good for either. Those mind numbing simultaneous orgasms happen very rarely…except in the movies!
3. Men reach their sexual peak at 18 and women reach theirs at 28. TRUE: With regard to their supply of sexual hormones, at least. Testosterone peaks at age 18 in men; women’s estrogen hits its high point in their mid-20s. “But peak hormones don’t mean peak sexual performance,” says Marc Goldstein, M.D., a professor of reproductive medicine and urology at Cornell University’s Weill Medical College. Sexual activity is “multiply determined.” That is, several factors go into making us engage in sex and hormones are but one. A willing partner, adequate time and a proper location are also important. So its possible to try for a personal best at any age.
4. A penis can be too small for a vagina. FALSE: Remember, the vagina is a “potential space.” That is, when not stimulated it contracts to a resting size. However, when aroused or when ready to deliver a baby, it expands to allow the child or penis to enter. And, as has often been said, it is rare to find a man with a penis as large as the head of a baby. But perception can still win the game in the end. “I was once at a dinner meeting with seven other sex doctors—six men and one woman,” says Jon L. Pryor, M.D., a professor of urologic surgery at the University of Minnesota. “The men all agreed that size doesn’t matter. The woman looked at us and said, ‘Think what you want. Size matters.’ We all left dejected.” Looking at the other side of the equation, Maria Muldaur made famous the Mann and Glover tune “It Ain’t the Meat, It’s the Motion,” and that could sum it up! Finally, it is possible for a man’s member to be so large as to be uncomfortable for some women. A good rule of thumb is that personal preference is far more important than an arbitrary measurement.
5. Having sex in water (swimming pool, hot tub, and shower) will kill sperm. TRUE. Some of your swimmers may die, but it isn’t an effective method of birth control, according to Dr. Jon L. Pryor. Though a hot tub can overheat your testicles and kill sperm, there can be plenty left for fertilization. On the other hand, if you are actively trying to achieve a pregnancy it is a good idea to avoid over heating your testicles. There is a good reason that the scrotum is outside the body. The proper temperature for sperm production is below the average body temperature, hence the location of the “family jewels.”
6. The reason I’m not getting pregnant is because most of the sperm leaks out of the vagina after intercourse. FALSE. Loss of seminal fluid after intercourse is perfectly normal, and most women notice some discharge immediately after sex. (Remember that “potential space” in Myth 4? After intercourse it will return to its resting state and some fluid will be forced out as it contracts.) Many infertile couples imagine that this is the cause of their problem. If your partner had his ejaculation inside you, then you can be sure that no matter how much fluid you lose afterwards, enough sperm will reach the cervical mucus. This discharge is not a cause of infertility.
7. A man can judge his fertility by the thickness and volume of his semen. FALSE.
Semen consists mainly of seminal fluid, secreted by the seminal vesicles and the prostate gland. The volume and consistency of the semen is not related to fertility potential, which depends upon the sperm count as well as the morphology and motility of the sperm. This can only be assessed by microscopic examination.
8. I have no problems having sex. Since I have a healthy sex drive and get erections easily, my sperm count must be normal. FALSE. There is no correlation between male fertility and erectile capacity or sex drive. Men with totally normal sex drives or adequate erections may have no sperm or sperm that are not capable of fertilizing an ovum because of morphology or motility problems.
9. Excessive masturbation can cause azoospermia (the absence of sperm in the ejaculate). False. Masturbation is a normal activity which many boys and men engage in. It does not affect the sperm count. Healthy testes do not “run out” of sperm. Unlike ovaries which have a finite number of eggs at birth, testes have the capacity to continue producing sperm throughout the life span. However, with age there is a reduction in the average daily sperm production and this is thought to be a factor in male infertility. In addition, with age, fewer mature sperm are produced. Mature sperm are more likely to have the necessary qualities for fertilizing an ovum.
10. If you’re a truly great lover, you should know how to please anyone. FALSE. It’s extremely likely that someone who knows a lot about sex and has had lots of practice is going to be better in bed than an inexperienced virgin. Technically, that is. However, if you’re crazy about said inexperienced lover (physically or emotionally)—oh, and if he has a good sense about how to provide you with pleasure—it might be the best sex you’ve ever had. “Good sex” has as much do to with perception and the brain as technique and the genitals.
Dr. William Petok is a psychologist in private practice in Baltimore, Maryland, specializing in sexuality, infertility, and marital therapy. For further information, visit http://www.drpetok.com.