10 Myths Straight Men Have Been Told About Sex

Designed by Janet Sung.
In the #MeToo era, society is finally having frank conversations about the myths and misunderstandings women and people assigned female at birth (afab) learn about sex. Women are taught that "good girls" aren't too sexual, that women don't like casual sex, and that women owe men sex in certain situations (like if they've led him on). Needless to say, these myths chip away at a woman’s ability to act in the interest of her own pleasure.
In the heat of all of these conversations, it's easy to forget that cultural myths and misunderstandings about sex are bad for men, too — just for different reasons. The culture that tells women they have no power in sexual situations is the same culture telling men that they have to be aggressive and horny all the time.
"There's pressure on boys to be overtly sexual, and to lose their virginity as soon as possible, while girls are still taught to hang on to theirs," says Ava Cadell, PhD, a clinical sexologist and AASECT certified sex counselor. "When you do the math on this social equation, you can't help but think that it’s a recipe for disaster and an unhappy ending."
These cultural misunderstandings about sex can lead to confusion, especially for men who have sex with women, because often no one ever taught them how to do sex right. While confusion doesn’t necessarily excuse bad behavior, ignorance about gender roles in sex and consent has the potential to create precarious situations in which even seemingly consensual sex isn't necessarily wanted, let alone pleasurable.
"Assuming goodwill on the part of men, they want their partner to have a good time," says Susan Brison, PhD, a professor of philosophy at Dartmouth who studies sexual violence. Perhaps the best way for men to make sure their partners enjoy having sex with them is to start talking about sex and shatter the myths they've learned.
Ahead, we've talked with Dr. Brison, Dr. Cadell, and other experts about what those myths are, and how men can start to unlearn them.
#MeToo has raised the voices of women who’ve been sexually assaulted or harassed — and that’s not just great, it’s revolutionary. So, where does that leave men? To help answer that question, Refinery29 is providing actionable advice for men who want to be allies.
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1 of 10
Myth: Men shouldn’t show emotion.

Starting around the age of eight, people squash any sign of feminine traits in young boys, says Joe Kort, PhD, a psychotherapist in Michigan — that includes showing their emotions. "By the time he grows up to be a man, he doesn’t know how to deal with emotion," Dr. Kort says. "He only has access to his feelings through sports, sex, violence, and work."

There is one emotion men are allowed to have, however, says Kait Scalisi, MPH, a sex educator and speaker, and that's anger. "Men turn all their feelings — sadness, disappointment, rejection — into anger, and then that anger turns into violence," she says. "How often do we hear jokes about the differences between how men and women deal with conflicts in their friendships? Men just punch it out and then they’re over it, while women analyze it to death."

Refusing to allow young boys to show emotion stunts their ability to be vulnerable when they grow up, Dr. Kort says, and makes them ill-equipped for conversations in which they have to share their feelings, including conversations about sex.

"We need to be mindful of how we engage with boys, teaching them both how to accept ‘no’ gracefully — that acceptance doesn’t mean weakness, but is actually a form of strength — and making it okay for them to feel all of their feelings," Scalisi says.
2 of 10
Myth: A man who’s good in bed "just knows" how to please a woman.

There's a serious lack of sex education in the U.S. (that seems to be getting even worse), yet plenty of straight men are taught to believe that they know all there is to know about pleasing a woman. Rob Perkins, co-founder of sex education website OMGYes, calls it "immaculate education."

This (pretty clever) term describes the flawed idea that when someone (of any gender, not just men) becomes sexually active, they automatically know everything they need to know about sex and pleasure. It's even more pronounced amongst teenagers — a demographic OMGYes has been surveying — because they want to feel grown up and therefore "feign overconfidence that they've been there, done that, know it all, have orgasms every time, and have it sorted," Perkins says.

A large percentage of straight women in OMGYes' study (41.4%) said that they wouldn't tell their partner how they wanted to be touched, because they didn't want to hurt his feelings. "Think about that — saying that she has something she likes that he doesn't yet know is an affront. Why? Because the name of the game is helping him protect the fib that he already knows everything," Perkins says. That's dangerous, because in pretending to be experts on sex, young people miss out on opportunities to learn and grow.
3 of 10
Myth: "No" really means "try harder."

It's a lesson that concepts like "no means no" and "yes means yes" have been trying to bust, yet boys continue to grow up with the inherent message that when a woman says "no," she doesn't really mean it. That comes from movies and books and — when they finally get their hands on it — porn.

"You see it all the time in movies. The heroine is saying 'no, no, no' to dating the hero, and then eventually she says 'yes,'" Dr. Kort says.

The same thing happens in porn, except the lessons boys learn there are even higher stakes, because porn teaches them that women will say "no" until they say "yes" and that they’ll enjoy the sex they initially didn’t want. "I feel for this 12-year-old boy who’s watching a porn video of eight men ejaculating in the face of one woman and is like, 'Wow, this is what sex is like,'" Dr. Brison says. A lot of porn that's easily accessible is "violently misogynistic," she says. And at 12 to 13 years old, when most young boys first see pornography, they don't know what is fantasy and what is reality.

"Rape-glorifying porn shows the same tired old myth of women saying ‘no’ or fighting back, and then in the end, they love it," Dr. Brison says. "If a boy comes to think that that’s true about women, then women aren’t able to refuse or say 'no'. Because their 'no' will be heard as 'yes.'"
4 of 10
Myth: Consent is a one-time deal.

It's important to think of consent as a living, breathing thing, Dr. Brison says. That means you can never give or receive a one-time blanket consent, even at the beginning of sex. It's a myth that's affected just about everyone's understanding of how healthy sex works, and one that men are running into as well.

"There's a myth that, as long as a woman’s up for sex, that means she's up for anything," she says. "It goes back to old rape myths that if a woman is sexual or making out with you, that that's an invitation to have sexual intercourse. And once that invitation is offered, that it can’t be taken back, otherwise you’re a cock tease."
5 of 10
Myth: Someone can be "good" or "bad" in bed.

The idea that someone can be “good” or “bad” in bed, and that's their whole sexual story, is another myth so pervasive it's basically gospel. The problem is, the reputation you earn in your first sexual encounter follows you around from then on, Perkins says.

"It provides pressure because you have to prove you're 'good' in your first hookup. Then the theory is that if you acknowledge her pleasure and create a dialogue about your sex life, that myth will burst," he says. Essentially, if a man asks his partners what they like in bed, that shatters the illusion that they're “good” at sex, which in turn challenges their masculinity. "So you don't ask for or listen to her needs, and you don't do things that burst the bubble of 'I'm good in bed,'" Perkins says. "There's a fragility that both people are protecting."
6 of 10
Myth: "Blue Balls" is a real (and painful) thing.

The idea of "blue balls" spans generations and has crossed over from myth to irrefutable fact in many people’s minds. People truly believe that if a man gets turned on and then isn't able to have sex, it'll be physically painful for him — thus leaving him with blue balls.

"Blue balls, what does that even mean? Are we saying their balls actually turn blue?" Dr. Brison says. (FYI: They don't.)

Even if having an erection without an orgasm does hurt, that's no reason for a man to pressure their partner into having sex, and it doesn't mean their partner owes them anything — even if some women think they do. "They believe that once a man has a hard-on, then it’s too late to say no, and it’ll be really painful for him not to come," Dr. Brison says. "At least in the case of some men, they believe they’re entitled to complete the act."

Fortunately, there's a simple solution for blue balls that doesn't involve coercing anyone into sex that they don't want: masturbation.
7 of 10
Myth: Men want sex all the time.

Ever heard the oft-cited stat that men think about sex every seven seconds? Sorry, but that's just not true. While it might seem like a harmless myth, it's rooted in the idea that men should be hyper-sexual beings, and that puts pressure on men, Dr. Brison says.

"I’ve heard men say they feel oppressed by the expectation that they’ll perform," she says. "They feel that once a sexual encounter has been initiated, it’s a testament to their manliness that they get it up and keep it up and have sex."
8 of 10
Myth: Men are all about "the hunt."

Framing sex and dating as a hunt or a game, in which the man (in heterosexual situations) is the hunter and the woman is the prey, immediately sets up power dynamics that strip women of their agency and put expectations onto men, Scalisi says. Yet, dating and sex are often framed this way. Men are the aggressors, and women, if they're coy, will "play hard to get."

"Pursue has such a violent connotation — you think of hunting and chasing. That’s how men are taught to view getting sex," Scalisi says. "They’re in charge, women are passive. But it’s not a hunt or a game. It’s people’s lives, bodies, and physical and emotional health."
9 of 10
Myth: Women's equality already exists.

This one’s not overtly about sex, but it certainly can affect sex.

Dr. Brison presented a talk on rape and gender-based violence at the University of Iowa recently, and was shocked when two young men came up to her after the show absolutely flabbergasted at the thought that rape is gender-based violence.

"They had never thought about rape or sexual harassment in terms of power differentials, or the fact that women aren’t equal to men," she says. In younger generations, some men seem to have gotten the idea that the fight for gender equality is over. Women got the vote, we're allowed to work, and that means we have equal rights and equal opportunities in the U.S. That's a dangerous line of thinking, Dr. Brison says, because rape, sexual assault, and sexual coercion are all issues of inequality.

"It’s partly that women have been fed that they're not entitled to stand up for themselves, but also that men don’t realize that there are some situations in which women can feel vulnerable or trapped," she says. "Men need to understand that just because a woman is going along with something, doesn’t mean that she wants it."
10 of 10
Myth: Certain sexual moves will feel good for everyone.

According to Perkins, some men have gotten the idea that everyone likes their genitals touched in the same way — which is definitely not true. Perkins calls this phenomenon “dickropromorphism” (another one of his catchy terms).

"Men often think of the clit like it's a little penis," he says. "And they think, 'If I rub it harder and faster and longer, it'll feel good.’" Yet, much of the feedback they've gotten from women who use OMGYes is that men are too aggressive during sex.

Where would men have learned this myth? There's no one handing them pamphlets that describe how rubbing a woman's clit hard and fast will make her come (at least we don’t think there is) — the problem is that no one is handing them information, at all.

"In a vacuum of credible information, there's a cloud of mystery and discomfort," Perkins says. "And then that cloud gets filled with whatever information is around. What a friend says at school (which might not be right), or a wisp of something they see in a movie, or what they intuit." It's easy to assume that other people will like the same things sexually that you like, he says, so a man who hasn't been told otherwise will likely believe that hard and fast is the best way to get a woman off. Again, this is where open and honest conversations about sex come in.

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