Between personal desires, dating norms, and physiological logistics, getting it on can be surprisingly complicated. Add in all the false information that’s floating around out there, and we’re all pretty much screwed (and not in the good way).
To help us separate sexual fact from fiction, we asked the field's top experts—from sex coaches to fertility experts to couples therapists—to tell us the biggest misconceptions about sex they encounter. Here's what we should really know when we’re getting down.
1. Everyone is having more sex than you.
“People seem to think everyone is doing it a certain number of times per week. Each person’s sex life is their own. The most important question is: Are you happy and are you fulfilled? Would you like to have more sex or less sex? Start by asking that of yourself and then check in with your partner. You want to be on pretty close to the same page. To me that’s the definition of a good sex life, not how often you do it.”
2. Only guys have medical issues with sexual dysfunction.
“There’s a misconception that female sexual dysfunction isn’t a medical or physical condition. For men, it’s easy to look at and see what the problem is. For women, they can tell you they’re not having orgasms, but they can’t exactly come in and show you the problem. We don’t always have those physical identifiers in women to understand what’s going on. But there has been evidence that there are alternations to the blood supply and the nerve supply in the genitals that causes dysfunction [in women].”
— Marsha K. Guess, M.D., assistant professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive sciences at Yale University School of Medicine
3. If you have sex right away, that signals something huge about the relationship.
“It’s a misconception that if you hold out and have a bunch of rules about when to have sex, the relationship will be more serious. It’s also a misconception that if you do it early on, you’re more involved with that person. Just because sex is (or isn’t) there right away, it doesn’t mean it is (or isn't) going to be a great relationship. The important thing is to have a dialogue around what it means if you are going to be intimate early on. Real intimacy and commitment comes from time. All you do by having sex early is learn about what the sex might be like.”
— Brenda Lewis, LCSW, author of The ABCs of Dating: A Guide to Love and Dating for the Openhearted
4. The clitoris is small.
“The clitoris isn’t just the exposed part; it’s what runs underneath. Most people think that the clitoris is just a little exposed and nubby head when in actuality, it is wishbone-shaped and runs down either side of the vagina underneath the labia. So it’s a lot bigger than most people think. Research has shown that direct clitoral stimulation is actually too much for women. The ideal spot is the 1 o’clock spot just to the side of the clit. The indirect stimulation can actually be better.”
— Kat Van Kirk, Ph.D., LMFT, certified sex therapist and author of The Married Sex Solution: A Realistic Guide to Saving Your Sex Life
5. Having sex all the time ups your chance of getting pregnant.
“It’s a misconception that daily intercourse enhances chances of pregnancy. In fact, having intercourse every day can actually significantly decrease sperm count and decrease chances of pregnancy for a couple. The timing of intercourse around ovulation is what is key.”
— Pinar H. Kodaman, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Advanced Endoscopic Reproductive Surgery program at Yale University School of Medicine
6. Sex should be spontaneous and unplanned.
“A lot of people think you should just crave your partner and want to rip their clothes off all the time. But in general, desire is responsive, meaning that it needs to be generated—it doesn’t just occur spontaneously. Sometimes, you need to kind of put your body through the motions and trust that your mind will follow. I think the couple that puts it on the calendar is much more commendable than the couple who doesn’t and instead waits around for something to happen and feels disappointed when it doesn’t.”
— Ian Kerner, Ph.D., LMFT, author of She Comes First: The Thinking Man’s Guide to Pleasuring a Woman
7. Men always want sex, and women rarely enjoy it.
“We're certainly much more open about sex and sexuality than in previous generations, but often that openness does not extend to expressing our own wants and desires. A lot of this has to do with gender norms and socialization. Movies, TV, and pornography teach us men always orgasm easily and that they always want sex, which is certainly not the case. Women are still often socialized in a way that stigmatizes female sexuality, which is extremely problematic. Women are slut-shamed, and some worry about being viewed as too sexually forward. Every individual needs to be able to discuss expectations, comfort levels, and desires, whether in a committed romantic relationship or with a one-night stand. Most of us need to step up our communication game.”
— Dana Weiser, Ph.D., associate professor of human development and family studies at Texas Tech University
8. Sex has to be super romantic and intimate every time.
“There is this myth that sex has to always be intimate and tender, otherwise you’re doing it wrong. Barry White and candles and rose petals are fun and can be a great way for people to get together and spend an afternoon. But I try to give people permission to relate to sex as play. When we use the word ‘play,’ we are more open to the idea that sex can be silly and goofy and dirty and raunchy. Sex is a space where you have permission to make mistakes and figure out the rules as you go in a process of shared discovery. Be open to the idea that there’s a whole lot of ways that sex can look.”
— Matt Lundquist, LCSW, director of Tribeca Therapy
9. Monogamy is easy.
“It is a myth that monogamy is a naturally occurring experience. It is natural for people to have attractions to other people, even if they have chosen to remain monogamous with their partner. At times it requires partners to make challenging decisions and commitment to resist the urge to have an affair. Thinking that you will never be tempted and never discussing what you and your partner consider cheating are dangerous blind spots that may leave your relationship at risk for affairs.”
10. You should always give back in bed.
“The biggest misconception about sex is that you should be a generous lover. But you don't get passion from generosity; you get it from a certain kind of selfishness. Not an oblivious selfishness, but a kind of selfishness that connects you to your partner through pure desire. If both partners selfishly enjoy each other in bed, that's a recipe for great sex.”
— Stephen Snyder, M.D., sex therapist in New York City
11. Good sex has to end in an orgasm.
“Sex is an intimate and pleasurable experience. We should think of it in a way that opens up the mind to more activities—people should enjoy whatever they are engaging in, as opposed to compartmentalizing certain sex acts as just ‘foreplay.’ One of the most common exercises for couples who have hit a dry spell is to remove intercourse from the table, then slowly introduce activities, formerly labeled as ‘foreplay,’ and reframe it as sex. It removes the pressure and builds excitement for the simpler activities.”
— Rachel Klechevsky, LMSW, sex and relationship therapist in New York City
12. Having intercourse right after you ovulate is the best window to get pregnant.
“In fact, the ‘fertile window’ actually occurs before ovulation. Sperm can live in the reproductive tract for days, so sex before ovulation allows plenty of sperm to be available when the egg is released. Studies suggest that if the sperm is ready and waiting at the time the egg is released (rather than trying to 'catch up' to an egg that's already been released), this will give a couple the best chance of pregnancy success.”
— Amanda Kallen, M.D., assistant professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive sciences at Yale University School of Medicine
13. If you're both really into each other, sex will automatically be great.
“People often think their partner is going to be able to magically satisfy them without any guidance. But someone couldn’t go buy you the perfect pair of jeans without knowing you very well—and it’s the same with sex. You both have to be participatory and guide each another in collaboration. Most of us aren't taught that it's OK or healthy to talk about sex. But if you’re going to have that level of intimacy and open up your body, it would be great to open up the lines of communication about what you want as well.”
— Rebecca Hendrix, LMFT, couples therapist in New York
14. There is a definition for “normal” sex.
“Most people think of ‘normal’ sex as being between a heterosexual couple, married, monogamous, in their bed, in the dark. But most of the sex that is happening is not that. Variance is actually the norm when it comes to human sexuality, but variance is not usually what we picture. For millennia, we’ve all agreed that sex, which is this powerful force that can create a lot of chaos, can be tamed if we just have it and define it this one certain way. But it has never worked. The non-normative is the norm when you get down to real numbers.”