Stop holding yourself and your partner to unrealistic standards and get back to enjoying sex. Here are three enduring myths that are probably making you fret about nothing.
You'll probably remember the first time you found out about sex. Perhaps off an older sibling or in the school yard you heard about this bizarre ritual that adults engage with. It sounded pretty weird, right?
Over the years a combination of education, research and old-fashioned experience probably set straight some of your early ideas about sex. We now know exactly where babies come from and can finally see what all the fuss was about sex. Whilst we may have grown wiser with age, some myths and stories about sex seem to have stuck around and continue to cause anxiety and insecurity amongst couples.
Here are three common sexual myths that have no scientific basis.
#1 Sex is about instant chemistry
Movies and television have a lot to answer for when it comes to our ideas about sex. When couples connect, there's an instant animal attraction. Kissing turns quickly into passionate sex with little more than a word. Brought up on this kind of media, many people grow up expecting sex to be this kind of explosion of romance and lust. The real experience can then be challenging and sometimes disappointing.
In reality good sex isn't something that usually happens by good luck or accident. No one is a sexual mind-reader and compatibility requires learning each other's bodies and how you work. Good communication and negotiation is the key. Open discussion about what you both find pleasurable is likely to increase the chances of sex giving you what you want. This is also a good time to discuss boundaries and any other important issues that get in the way of having a good time.
Planning for sex may not sound very exciting, but setting aside time can be a good way to build anticipation and ensure regular satisfying sex. This is a good way of making sure sex doesn't fall to the bottom of the to-do list amidst everyday stresses, and ensures you're not rushed for time or too tired.
Quick-start sex doesn't work for everyone. Many people can take time to become aroused. In particular women are thought to need around 20 minutes of foreplay before being fully turned on. Knowing that sex is in the diary and having time to relax into it can help both partners to switch off from the day and get into a sexier mindset.
#2 Sex should last a long time
"Lasting all night" is often taken as a sign of male sexual prowess. But how long is really long enough? Many men have adopted the idea that for sex needs to last for many hours to satisfy their partner. In reality, the average length of time is thought to be about 5.4 minutes — hardly a marathon effort.
This is a very widespread myth and had led many men to believe that they have a problem. Partners too may feel frustrated when their partner orgasms after what is actually a very normal length of activity. "Subjective premature ejaculation" refers to when men become preoccupied with how long they can last, which in turn starts to cause further problems. Many people worry about premature ejaculation, but this is defined as ejaculation less than 15 seconds after beginning and only around 30 per cent of men suffer from this.
If timing is one of your worries, remember that there is no "set" length of time sex has to last. Many people measure time from initial penetration to the man's orgasm and hold themselves to a particular standard. However sexual activity covers far more than this. The majority of women do not orgasm from penetrative sex and there's no reason why the enjoyment needs to end at ejaculation. There are plenty of ways of giving and receiving pleasure and this can last as long as you both choose.
#3 Size matters
Penis-size is another area of pre-occupation and insecurity that affects many men. Images from pornography and jokes mocking men with smaller penises have given rise to great insecurity. Many men worry that their penis is too small and that this won't be desirable to potential partners.
Often fuelled by images from pornography and ideas of "masculinity", many men vastly over-estimate the size that is "normal". Like all body parts, penises vary a lot. Research suggests that the average penis is 13.11cm in length when erect.
It's also common for men to over-estimate the size of penis that women prefer. When interviewed, the majority of women reported that their preference was for 16cm in length, with a circumference of 12.19cm. This is only slightly bigger than average.
As previously mentioned, the majority of women do not orgasm from penetrative sex. Therefore giving sexual satisfaction often relies on other activities such as oral sex and mutual masturbation. Contrary to popular belief, a larger penis isn't a direct pass to better sex for many people.
How do these myths survive?
Whilst the myths described aren't backed up by evidence and often our own experience, yet they seem to hang around. The reasons for this may be multi-fold. We often don't talk openly about sex, with friends or our partners. This can leave us with a completely unrealistic idea of the quality and quantity of sex everyone is having. When we do talk about sex, sometimes from insecurity or embarrassment we might try and give a better impression and actually end up perpetuating some of these false ideas.
Recognising that our thoughts about sex may be a distortion of reality can be the first step in overcoming sexual worries. A whole industry depends on people believing that they are "bad" at sex and need to buy various products and services to improve their lives. These anxieties are exploited for financial gain.
Simplistic ideas of what constitutes "good" sex perpetuate the idea that a quick fix exists. In reality, the better we understand our own and our partner's minds and bodies, communicate well and feel confident, the better sex will be. We cause ourselves a lot of pain when we accept sexual myths as truth and hold ourselves and our partners to these expectations.
Dr Alexandra Richards is clinical psychologist with a specialist interest in sexual health, medically unexplained symptoms, and neuropsychology. She serves as a professional consultant for the Between Us Clinic, which provides sex-therapy online programs for men and couples experiencing premature ejaculation.