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Mythbusting Sex Part 1: Vaginas, Vulvas and Penises - Oh My!

Updated: May 13


So many people get crappy (or no) sex education, meaning there are MANY myths going around about sex - whether it’s how our bodies work, how to prevent pregnancy, or what enjoying certain sex acts says about a person. Many of these myths are dangerous to our health and can result in people feeling isolated, ashamed or like there’s something wrong with them.


In this three-part blog post, we’re going to dispel some of the most common myths we hear about sex. Here in part 1, we’ll dispel some myths about anatomy and how our bodies work. Stay tuned for part 2 where we’ll bust some myths about pregnancy and STI prevention and part 3 where we’ll tackle misconceptions about desire, types of sex, kink and more. On to the myths!



Vagina & Vulva Myths


A grapefruit with a cherry on it meant to look like a vulva, on a black background
Image Credit: Deon Black

Myth: Vagina = Vulva 

Fact: The Vagina and Vulva are different body parts


A pet annoyance of ours is when we hear people refer to the external genital area as the ‘vagina’. The vagina is the internal part - it’s a tube of muscle that can be penetrated during sex. The outer genital area is called the vulva and consists of the inner and outer labia (lips), the external part of the clitoris (more on that below), the urethral opening (where you pee from) and the vaginal opening. See Planned Parenthood’s explanation of reproductive anatomy for more information and some useful diagrams.



Myth: The clitoris is small and hard to find

Fact: The clitoris is a large, complex organ that is mostly internal and can be stimulated in a multitude of ways


Many people think of the clitoris as a small nub that sits towards the top of the vulva. But this is actually just the clitoral glans (the ‘head’) - the clitoris itself is a large, complex structure that is mostly internal as shown in the diagram below. This wonderful organ is the only one in the human body whose sole purpose is to experience pleasure! Just like the penis, the clitoris has lots of erectile tissue that can get engorged and erect when stimulated (shown by all of the dark pink areas in the diagram below). Much of its structure straddles both the vagina and the urethra, which is why vaginal penetration can feel good for a lot of people. This internal part of the clitoris is what people are referring to when they talk about the ‘G spot’.


Many people need direct stimulation of the external clitoral glans to orgasm, but some can orgasm from penetration alone - or a combination of the two. There’s no right or wrong way to orgasm or experience pleasure.



Anatomical diagram of enture structure of the clitoris with vulva drawn on top in black line
Structure of the clitoris with vulva drawn on top in black line for reference. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons.


Myth: Vaginas get looser if you have more sexual partners 

Fact: Vaginas are designed to have lots of sex over your lifetime without giving out


This myth really needs to die, as it’s rooted in misogyny and slut-shaming. No, the vagina does not get looser if you have more sexual partners. The vagina is basically a flexible tube of muscle. And what happens when you use a muscle a lot? It gets stronger and firmer, not looser! People who propagate this myth also never have a good explanation for how the vagina is magically keeping track of how many penises have been in it - after all, if vaginas could get ‘stretched out’ from sex (and again: they can’t), then having sex 100 times with a single partner would have the same effect as 100 one-night stands. 



Myth: You shouldn’t need lube if you’re aroused enough

Fact: Many people benefit from using lube for all sorts of reasons


In her fantastic book Come As You Are, Dr Emily Nagoski describes something called ‘arousal non-concordance’, which is a fancy way of saying that our bodies and our minds are often not in perfect alignment and that it’s very common to feel aroused but not get wet (or vice versa).  So it’s very normal to need a little extra help to get things slick - and sex will feel much more comfortable and pleasurable if things are well lubricated. See our guide to personal lubricants for more information on why you probably do want to incorporate lube into your sex life and on how to pick the right lube for you.



Myth: It’s normal for sex to hurt (especially the first time)

Fact: Sex doesn’t have to hurt, even the first time


If sex hurts, it’s a sign that something isn’t right. Sadly, the idea that those with vaginas should suffer through painful sex is rooted in misogyny, but it shouldn’t be this way. There are many medical conditions that can cause pain during sex and persistent or new pain should be checked out by a doctor. But if you’re new to sex, you might be feeling some anxiety around it or even a desire to ‘get it over with’ - which can lead you to rush to penetration without taking time to get aroused fully first. Sex is generally a lot more comfortable and pleasurable if you’re looking forward to it - so take the pressure off, slow down and incorporate lots of other pleasurable activities such as hand stuff or oral sex.


While we’re on the subject of first times…



Myth: The hymen is an indicator of virginity

Fact: The hymen is not a ‘freshness seal for the vagina’


There are so many misunderstandings about the hymen that it deserves an entire blog post in itself. The hymen is a piece of stretchy tissue that partially or completely surrounds the vaginal entrance. The hymen actually gets much stretchier and thinner during puberty such that many people with vaginas don’t have noticeable hymens by the time they are sexually active. This means that many people never experience their hymen ‘tearing’ during their first sexual encounter. The presence or condition of a hymen should never be taken as evidence of virginity or how many sexual partners someone has had. And bleeding during your first time isn’t necessarily an indicator of the hymen tearing, but is often a sign of injury due to feeling anxious, rushed and not well-lubricated enough.



Myth: Using a vibrator will make you lose sensitivity and give you a ‘dead vagina’

Fact: Vibrators do not make you permanently lose sensitivity and can enhance your sexual experience


While it’s true that vibrators tend to provide more intense sensation than your hand can, they do not make you lose sensitivity. Some people do find that some very intense toys can cause temporary numbness or loss of sensitivity, but this usually resolves within minutes. And if you always orgasm the same way, with the same toy, you can train your brain to expect a specific sensation in order to orgasm. This means that if you do try something different - such as using your hand instead of a toy for a change - it can be harder to reach orgasm. This doesn’t mean you’re less sensitive though! The remedy for this is to incorporate lots of variety in how you masturbate or have sex - explore and play in new ways often and you’ll find your body responds to a wider set of sensations.



Penis & Ball Myths


A banana poking out of the fly of a pair of jeans on a pink background
Image Credit: Deon Black

Myth: Your penis is too small

Fact: It’s probably fine


According to Planned Parenthood, the average penis is about 2.5 to 5 inches long when flaccid (soft) and 5 to 7 inches when erect (hard). But many people who fall in this range have the misperception that they are smaller than average - likely at least in part due to the fact that porn performers are often cast because they have larger-than-average penises, and if most of the penises you see are above average, then it can skew  your perception. And there’s a myth that ‘bigger is better’, but individual people vary a lot in their preferences for their partner’s penis size - some do prefer bigger but many people prefer an average or smaller sized penis, or simply don’t care at all. After all, there are many ways to give and receive pleasure that don’t rely on having a penis at all, let alone a large one.



Myth: Erectile Dysfunction (ED) only happens to old people or it means you're not attracted to your partner

Fact: People get ED for all sorts of reasons 


Just like vaginas can have a hard time getting wet sometimes, penises can have a hard time getting… well, hard… for the same reason - arousal non-concordance. It’s especially common when sleeping with a new partner and feeling some performance anxiety. If that’s the cause, it tends to get better over time as you become more comfortable with your partner. And ED can strike at any age, although it does get more common the older you get. ED can have a medical cause so it’s important to get it checked out by a doctor as it can be the first sign of cardiovascular problems, especially in older folks. ED caused by medical problems can be very successfully treated with medications like Cialis and Viagra or an injection, so talk to your doctor about options. 



Myth: If you masturbate too much you’ll get ‘Deathgrip Syndrome’ and won’t be able to orgasm any other way

Fact: It’s possible to orgasm from different types of stimulation if you keep things varied


This is another variant on the ‘Dead Vagina’ myth we debunked above. The concern is that using your hand to orgasm, especially with a tight grip, will make it difficult or impossible to cum through oral or penetrative sex. The issue is the same - always orgasming the same way trains your brain to expect it. The cure is to vary things up - incorporate toys, loosen your grip, and don’t let yourself cum through your normal method.



Conclusion


Knowing how our bodies work and how varied they are is vital to feeling confident in your own skin and your sexuality. While we haven't covered every body myth you might have heard, we hope we've put your mind to rest over some of the ones we hear most commonly.



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