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Mythbusting Sex Part 3: Desire, Arousal & Masturbation


In parts 1 and 2 of our Mythbusting Sex post series, we debunked some myths about our genitals, pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. Here in part 3, we're going to demystify the complex and often emotionally fraught topics of desire, arousal and performance in the bedroom. Plus we'll debunk a few common myths about masturbation.


Misunderstandings about these topics can result in people having unrealistic or unspoken expectations for their partners, which can cause problems in relationships. Having a better understanding of how both our bodies and our minds work when it comes to sex can help create a foundation for better communication and hence healthier, happier relationships. So: on to the myths!



Desire, arousal and performance


Two women on a bed with legs entwined
Image Credit: Yan Krukau


Myth: Sex = penis in vagina (PIV) penetration

Fact: There are many ways to have sex


Many of us were taught that sex is when a penis goes into a vagina. But this narrow definition doesn’t account for the multitude of ways people of all genders connect sexually. For many people, ‘sex’ can involve oral sex, anal sex, hand stuff, mutual masturbation, kink, and much more! No one type of sex is more real or valid than another - and if you never have PIV sex, it doesn’t mean your sex life is inferior. Prioritize connecting in ways that work best for you and your partner(s), whether that looks conventional or not.



Myth: Everyone else is having more sex than you

Fact: They’re probably not


According to a recent study, most people across all age groups believe that they are having less sex than average. But you might be surprised to learn that most people aren’t doing it every day and that dry spells lasting weeks, months or years are really common. Our skewed perception of those around us can damage our self-esteem and make us feel less desirable, and can make younger folks feel pressured to be sexually active before they are ready. Ultimately, there is no ‘normal’ amount of sex to be having, and it’s healthier to drop the comparisons and focus on what works for you.



Myth: Men are hornier than women

Fact: There are plenty of horny women and plenty of not-so-horny men


Our culture expects men (or at least, those assigned male at birth) to be horndogs - always ready for sex at a moment’s notice. Conversely, we expect women to be less interested in sex, or perhaps not to enjoy it at all. These ideas are rooted in patriarchy, which simultaneously teaches women that their sexuality is a finite resource to be guarded and that prioritizes men’s pleasure over women’s. The result is that women are not encouraged to explore sexually and advocate for their needs and desires, and men can feel pressure to show that they always want sex, whether they actually do or not.


In the real world, people vary greatly in their libido level, and your libido can also change over time due to factors such as  life changes, stress, aging, medications, or who you are partnered with. This is true for people of all genders!



Myth: There’s something wrong with your relationship if you or your partner are never spontaneously ‘in the mood’  

Fact: Many people (especially women) have reactive desire and need a little help to get going


In her book Come As You Are, Dr Emily Nagoski explains the two main types of desire - spontaneous and reactive. People who experience spontaneous desire will feel horny seemingly out of nowhere. But there are many people who experience reactive desire - that is, they only start to feel horny once they are being aroused - perhaps by kissing, sensual touch or even flirty texting. Cis men are more likely to experience spontaneous desire and cis women are more likely to experience reactive desire*. Both are totally normal! If your partner needs to get aroused before they feel desire, you can feel reassured that it’s not because they aren’t attracted to you - they likely just experience desire more reactively.


*Sadly there’s very little research on trans/nonbinary people and desire currently so we don't know what patterns hold true for them.



Masturbation


A woman lying on a bed hugging herself
Image Credit: Chevanon Photography

Myth: Masturbation is bad for you

Fact: Masturbation has all kinds of health benefits


Perhaps you’ve heard that masturbation will make you blind, give you erectile dysfunction or make you less sensitive. The good news is, not only are these myths false but masturbation has multiple health benefits! Regular masturbation can help you sleep better, reduce stress, improve concentration and self-esteem, and in older people can also help reduce vaginal dryness and sexual pain.  


Solo masturbation is also a great way to learn about yourself as a sexual being: it’s easier to figure out what turns you on and what feels good when you’re not worried about pleasing or impressing someone else. And that knowledge can make us better at advocating for ourselves and our needs during partnered sex. So what’s not to love about self-love?



Myth: You can masturbate ‘too much’

Fact: There is no right amount to masturbate


As long as your masturbation habits aren’t interfering negatively with the rest of your life - for example by causing physical soreness, exacerbating problems in your relationship or interfering with your ability to get through your workday - then you probably don’t need to worry and you can masturbate as much as feels right for you. If you are experiencing problems due to masturbation, you may want to consider working with a sex-positive therapist to get to the bottom of the issue and find a healthy balance.



Myth: People only masturbate if they are single or desperate

Fact: Masturbation is a normal and healthy part of your sex life, whether you’re partnered or not


People masturbate whether they are in a relationship or not. Some people may expect a partner to stop masturbating when they get into a relationship and may feel that if their partner masturbates that it’s a sign that they are unsatisfied in bed. However, people have different levels of sexual desire and for many people, regular masturbation is an important part of their sex life regardless of how much partnered sex they are having.


You can also masturbate with your partner - this is called mutual masturbation. It’s a great way to be intimate without risking pregnancy or STI transmission. Some people like to masturbate to orgasm after sex. And some people like to watch their partner masturbate - because it’s hot!



Stay tuned for the final part of our Mythbusting series where we'll dive deep into misconceptions about sex toys, kinky sex and butt stuff!



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