Sex & Relationships

10 Common Ideas About Sex -- That May Be Totally Wrong

Do women lose interest in sex as they age? How safe is it to have sex post-heart attack?

We all think we know things we don’t, but when it comes to sex being fuzzy can be sticky. It’s harmless enough to think, say, that green M&Ms make you horny, but if you didn’t realize you had to take the birth control pill every day, misconceptions could lead to conceptions. So, are you ready for a sexual pop quiz? Here are 10 ideas about sex and the reasons they are true or false. Because you don’t always know what you think you know. Ya know? 

1. True or false: Women lose interest in sex as they age.

There are myths we project onto others and myths we project onto ourselves. I assumed that my interest in sex would wane over the years whether I wanted it to or not, but during an evening of girl talk about the weird effects of perimenopause, this phrase came up: "Nobody ever told me about the horniness.”

I remember, because I was the one who said it.

I thought for a while that my hormones were ready to go off to an assisted living facility in Fort Lauderdale, but no: they go in and out of retirement like Michael Jordan (and they, too, want to take up new sports). Which just goes to show you that while it’s true that sex drives change periodically throughout our lives, it’s not true that interest in sex has some absolute cut-off point. 

Sexuality and U, the website for the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada, says that after menopause arousal does take longer, lubrication is not as easy and hormonal fluctuations may alter desire, but that doesn’t mean it will vamoose altogether. Some women have an increased interest because they’re unburdened by fear of pregnancy or having young kids to take care of. Our Bodies, Ourselves says the quality of relationships also plays a part in our later-life interest in sex as do some medications. So the bottom line is, it depends on the woman and her situation. 

I know…you were looking forward to letting yourself go. Me too. Now I think I’ll still be flirting and asking “How’s my hair?” when I have more wrinkles than an Agatha Christie plot.

2. True or false: If you have heart trouble you should stop having sex.

Well, as luck would have it giving up sex isn’t necessary if you’ve had heart trouble. From “Dr. Dawn Harper explains, "People with heart disease should be able to lead a completely normal sex life. Even people who've had a heart attack can normally resume their sex lives within two or three weeks unless there are complications. However, if you suffer from chest pain during sex, you should stop immediately and see your doctor."

The American Heart Association has a list of tips, most of which involve checking with your doctor and some of which include specifics on erectile dysfunction, estrogen and recovery from heart failure. Of course, you want the green light from your own doctor, but you also don’t necessarily have to give up something that helps make life worth living.  

Also that fabulous plot device of guys having heart attacks in the arms of their mistresses turns out not to be not-so-likely in real life. From the AHA: “Cardiovascular events — such as heart attacks or chest pain caused by heart disease — rarely occur during sexual activity, because sexual activity is usually for a short time.”

Dang it. That’s how I was planning to go. 

3. True or false: You can orgasm, no direct stimulation required.

You might not be able to do it while sitting at your desk at work, but who knows, you might. “A few folks can literally ‘think’ off,” sex educator and author Betty Dodson told the Huffington Post’s Madeline VannCosmo gives some tips for how to get there including what are probably the two most important ones a) practice; and b) don’t expect it to happen overnight.

Finally, one of my favorite sex educators, Sheri Winston, author of A Woman’s Anatomy of Arousal, gave some tips to The Doctors, including using your breath to fire up your energy and making sounds to alert your brain to the importance of the experience. All the advice seems to include getting yourself in the right head space and using less-than-obvious body parts, like your brain, to get you where you want to go.

4. True or false: You can tell a man’s penis size by the size of his hands.

One of the most oft-trumped pieces of sexual folklore is that you can tell the size of a man’s penis by his hands/feet/fingers/wallet -- just pick something and someone will have found a way to relate it to penis size. Snopes says nope: that meme is untrue, but Catherine Salmon of Redlands University calls to our attention a study in the Asian Journal of Andrology saying that digit ratio -- the ratio between the length of a man’s index finger to his ring finger -- can be very telling.

“Their take on it was that the 2D:4D finger digit ratio is predictive of penis size, the lower the ratio, the higher the prenatal testosterone exposure and the longer the adult penis. However, it doesn’t mean that you can tell the size of a guy’s equipment from a casual glance at his hands: 2D:4D differences are quite small. And it’s the difference in finger ratio not overall hand size. And the evidence doesn’t speak to the girth of his equipment which many women report matters more.”

Most women probably won’t get out calipers to get a serious bead on his 2nd-digit/4th-digit ratio, Salmon says. I don't know. That third glass of pinot grigio can wash away a lot of inhibitions.

5. True or false: Women don’t watch porn.

Some women not only watch porn, they watch enough of it for there to be news stories about some of them being addicted to itA story in Ebony by Feminista Jones delves into the preferences of women, why they like what they like (via Twitter survey) and cites a study led by Gomathi Sitharthan of the University of Sydney claiming that one in three women are porn watchers. (Super-fun cocktail tidbit: Forbes’ Jenna Goudreau found that while the economy was crashing in 2010, 17 Securities and Exchange Commission employees were found to having been surfing porn sites on government computers; one was a woman who tried to access a porn sites 1,800 times from her work laptop in two weeks and had downloaded 600 sexually explicit images.)

Anyway, yes, some women are "inspired" by images of people doin’ it just like men are and for a fun list of reasons check out Susannah Breslin’s Top 10 Reasons Why Women Watch Porn on The Frisky. “Learn new moves,” is one I like, though that’s usually a happy byproduct of “Ogle guys.” That’s why gay porn is so good. The more naked men you can cram on a screen or in an otherwise small space the better. 

6.  True or false: Having sex before an athletic event will mess up your performance.

When I was 12 and saw Burgess Meredith tell Sylvester Stallone in Rocky that “women weaken legs” I believed thereafter that sex before sports was a bad idea. You might not be about to step into the ring with Apollo Creed, but if you’ve participated in competitive sports, marathon running or have hobbies like rock climbing you may have wondered whether sex interferes with your energy levels. 

 CNN reported during last summer’s Olympics that sex being bad for athletic performance is a myth and it actually might help, because it’s relaxing, distracting and decreases stress and mental fatigue. Juan Carlos Medina, general coordinator of the sports department at Tecnologico de Monterrey in Mexico, told CNN that sex can reduce athletes’ anxiety before a game and that, "Even Pele confessed that he never suspended sexual encounters with his wife before a game, I mean, that thing about sex helping to relax is a verified truth." Studies by Barry Komisaruk, a psychology professor at Rutgers University in Newark, New Jersey also found that sexual stimulation in women produces a powerful pain-blocking effect which could help with sports-related injuries or muscle pain.

7. True or false: The birth control pill will make you gain weight.

WebMD says this notion got started because when the pill first came out in the 1960s it contained 1,000 times more hormones than most women actually needed for pregnancy prevention -- higher estrogen causes fluid retention and increased appetite, ergo weight gain. The pill has been refined since then. In most women it does not cause weight gain and if it does it is insignificant and temporary. “Indeed, a review of 44 studies showed no evidence that birth control pills caused weight gain in most users,” Web MD says.

Besides, if you’re worried the pill might make you gain weight, try pregnancy. 

8. True or false: Losing their virginity is always painful for girls.

Even if you’re not a virgin, intimacy coach Tinamarie Bernard’s take on this subject doesn’t just answer the question, it challenges the ways young women in our culture learn about sex and what they can expect from it. 

Bernard says the first time not only doesn’t have to be painful, it can be ecstatic, even orgasmic. “I had a strong sense as a teenager that sex was something special and I don’t mean 'Oh, I’m a virgin! It’s special!' More like the bonding that connects two bodies, two souls and two hearts,” she says.

Having already had orgasms, she was prepared for what her body would feel. She and her boyfriend talked a lot about the first time and “we had played a lot before that so we were comfortable in our bodies and comfortable giving and receiving pleasure. It wasn’t what happens today in the hookup culture,” where sex happens too quickly for the deeper pleasure of intimacy. 

“Imagine if this was the 'narrative' we taught our youths regarding sex education,” Bernard says. “Imagine if young women expected the best. Imagine if they felt that their pleasure was as important as anything else. ”

But Bernard says a “collective insanity” around sex in our culture essentially treats this adult subject in a rather childish way: either dirty shameful or superficial and “hot,” a tool to sell everything from shampoo to burgers. “Those two voices have dominated the conversation,” she says, “and the middle ground of pleasure, joy, connection, intimacy orgasm,” that sex is amazing and you can experience it that way. “That gentle voice of reason,” she says, “really needs to get louder.” 

9. True or false: If someone is transgender it means they’re gay.

Even if you’re pretty savvy about the sex you’re having, the areas of the sexual theme park you’ve never traveled in might be pretty murky to you. It’s easy to find heteronormative sex advice everywhere -- you could pick up plenty just watching reruns of "Sex and the City." But the basic facts of being transgender aren’t something you’re likely to casually pick up a lot of information on. Even the meaning of "transgender" is sometimes confused.

Your sex is the physical sex you’re born with; your gender is which sex you identify with internally that you express externally through behavior, clothing, etc., says the American Psychological Association: think Chaz Bono. And, the APA says, “Transgender people may be straight, lesbian, gay, bisexual or asexual, just as nontransgender people can be.”  

10. True or false: Sex makes you happy.

Trick question! It can, but it depends on one very specific variable. Tim Wadsworth, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Colorado, Boulder, found that people who report being happier also report higher sexual frequency. But he also found that happiness was contingent on how much sex they perceive their peers are having and whether they are having more or less.

The 2013 study analyzed data from the General Social Survey. Wadsworth’s survey group of 15,386 people was queried from 1993 to 2006 and asked if they were “very happy, pretty happy or not too happy.” After controlling for numerous factors, the researchers found that people who had sex at least three times a month were 33% happier than those who hadn’t had sex in 12 months and the happiness level rises with frequency: “Those reporting having sex two to three times a week are 55 percent more likely to report a higher level of happiness.”

Not that surprising. But if you want to turn someone from Tigger to Eeyore let them know they’re not getting as much action as the next person. People infer knowledge of the private matter of sex from social interaction, peer groups, media, surveys and other ways. “As a result of this knowledge, if members of a peer group are having sex two to three times a month but believe their peers are on a once-weekly schedule, their probability of reporting a higher level of happiness falls by about 14 percent, Wadsworth found.”

This is the easiest thing I’ve been asked to believe in a long time. We can pretend to be sophisticated, but we’re all children when it comes to thinking someone else got a bigger slice of cake than we did. 

Or in this case, just a better piece. 

Liz Langley is a freelance writer based in Orlando, Florida. #OrlandoUnited. OrlandoStrong.