Editor’s Note: This article was written to address the messages that cisgender, mostly heterosexual men receive about sexuality. However, many of these can apply to men overall.
Originally published on Mic and cross-posted here with their permission.
PolicyMic recently debunked 17 persistent lies society teaches girls about sex. Though targeted towards women, this list was meant to be helpful for educating all genders about sexuality in a healthy way.
Of course, just like girls, boys are fed some very problematic lies of their own.
While our culture promotes a male-centric (that is, penis-centric) view of sex, men do not necessarily have it easy. Boys are taught that “real men” are sexual aggressors, and the tenets of toxic masculinity promote stoicism and ignorance; to admit fear, discomfort or confusion about sex implies a certain vulnerability at odds with culturally-acceptable machismo.
This stigma surrounding male sexuality has been linked to increased risk-taking behavior, violence and the spread sexually transmitted infections.
Boys are half of the equation in discussions about sex positivity, and we need to teach everyone proper lessons about anatomy, communication and consent. Let’s start by debunking these 17 myths about boys and sex.
1. Size Is Everything
If there’s one thing society has consistently equated with manliness, it’s penis size. So it’s not surprising that so many guys worry about measuring up.
Here’s the truth: Size matters, to some people, sometimes. But it’s not everything.
For one thing, guys often hold themselves to an unrealistic standard. Many don’t see a lot of erect members outside of porn, which offers a skewed perspective. Porn also has the added benefits of flattering lighting, angles and makeup, making it a far-from-accurate tool for comparison.
Much of a person’s preference is likely due to social conditioning more so than physical pleasure. People come in different shapes and sizes, and what works for some pairings won’t for others.
Besides, the vagina isn’t just some hole you toss stuff into; it’s only three to four inches long on average, and expands during sex to let something through. Other openings don’t stretch much at all.
Lastly, sexual chemistry trumps size any day. As the Kinsey Institute’s Dr. Debby Herbenick says, “Research consistently finds that sexual satisfaction is more influenced by psychological connection, intimacy and relationship satisfaction — not just the size or shape of a person’s genitals.”
2. Sex Is All About Penetration
The common concept of virginity as penis-in-vagina penetration is too narrow to be meaningful, and ignores things like oral and anal sex, the experiences of LGBTQIA+ couples and personal conceptions of intimacy.
Beyond virginity, there’s so much more to sex, love and relationships than fitting a specific peg in one specific hole.
3. All Men Have Penises
Many items here focus on the anatomy of those assigned male at birth to create a space for topics boys don’t always get a chance to properly discuss.
We again emphasize that gender identity is different from biological sex.
Manhood is not defined by what’s between your legs.
4. Boys Are Always DTF
Society has spent so much time focusing on men’s libido that even the occasional lack of desire can feel emasculating. But sometimes men — like women — just aren’t ready to go. Things like diet, sleep, stress and confidence can all affect the mood.
Studies about whether men or women want sex more are seemingly endless and contradictory, but we should keep things in perspective. As iO9 points out, “Greater sex drive does not translate to greater capacity for sex, or greater enjoyment of sex.”
Most importantly, broad trends don’t reflect every personal preference; some men like monogamous relationships, some want casual sex and some don’t want sex at all.
It’s time we stop thinking about desire — or lack thereof — in gendered terms.
5. Boys Can’t Be Raped
Rape is a hugely under-reported crime regardless of gender, and a recent National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) found that there are likely far more male victims than previously thought.
In surveying 40,000 households, the NCVS discovered that 38% of incidents of rape and sexual violence were committed against men — well above previous stats placing the number of male victims at 5 to 14%. Regardless of statistics, denying the reality of male rape is incredibly hurtful to its victims.
So why do people still believe that men can’t be raped? This misconception stems in large part from aforementioned thinking that men always want sex, an idea that can cause a great deal of pain and confusion for victims.
As RAINN’s Jennifer Marsh told PolicyMic, “Male victims often feel as though there must be something ‘not right’ with them if they did not want or enjoy the attack.”
The presence of an erection does not indicate consent, either; unwanted arousal can happen to with all types of genitals during a sexual assault.
6. Boys Don’t Need the HPV Vaccine
Though the human papillomavirus (HPV) is typically associated with women, men can also be carriers and pass the virus to female partners.
As such, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends the Gardasil vaccine for all genders from ages 9 to 26. The vaccine prevents four different types of HPV, two of which cause genital warts and two of which cause cervical cancer. And yes, it is safe.
While we’re on the subject, men can also get UTIs and yeast infections. They may not get them as often as women do, but that doesn’t make them any more enjoyable when they do strike.
7. Porn Is a Great Way to Learn About Sex
Thus it’s important to remember that porn sex is not real sex. As with any other cinematic endeavor, it involves actors, directors, editors and a whole lot of exaggeration.
Case in point: Despite porn’s ubiquitous display of frantic thrusting, the majority of women do not come from penetration alone.
Other ways real sex is different from porn include the fact that men don’t produce gallons of semen, all genitals don’t look the same and human beings have hair.
Because porn is a performance, not an instruction manual, watching a lot of it probably won’t make someone a better lover.
Talking with a partner about what makes him or her happy, on the other hand, might do the trick.
8. Sex Is Over When a Man Finishes
Sex isn’t some teleological exercise, and orgasm isn’t everything — for men or for women.
Discomfort from “blue balls” will not kill you, and the journey is often more important than the destination anyways.
9. Sex Should Last for Hours
The marathon copulation sessions shown in porn, and romantic comedies for that matter, are unrealistic, and would probably be very painful in real life; men, like women, can get sore after the act.
In reality, sex (not including foreplay) usually lasts only about as long as your average Marvin Gaye song: three to seven minutes. (Of course, this is not representative of all sexual encounters for all people, and sex can certainly last longer than that.)
This might seem short, but sex expert and author Ian Kerner puts it in perspective: “[Cis] men were wired to ejaculate quickly — and stressful situations make them ejaculate even more quickly. It’s been important to the human race. If guys took an hour to ejaculate, we’d be a much smaller planet.”
10. Bisexual Men are Closeted Homosexuals
Nevertheless, bisexual men still tend to face stigma and questions over the legitimacy of their sexuality. Bisexual women deal with this as well, although women are often viewed as having a more fluid (and fetishized) sexuality in the first place.
(Of course, as the Telegraph‘s Patrick McAleenan points out, “Whether that’s innate or a function of living in a society where Katy Perry is worshipped for singing a song called “I Kissed a Girl,” and Madonna snogs Britney Spears on stage, remains to be seen.”)
Boys shouldn’t be made to feel shameful about same-sex attraction, and it’s certainly not fair to suggest the line between gay and straight is somehow starker for men than it is for women.
11. Straight Men Don’t Do Butt Stuff
Exploring their backside is taboo for many straight guys because they worry about seeming gay.
This is silly for many reasons, the most obvious of which is that there’s nothing wrong with being gay. Additionally, not all gay men engage in anal sex.
Whatever your sexuality, the prostate doesn’t discriminate. This walnut-sized gland, also known as the “male G-spot,” can be found between the penis and bladder, and many men — gay and straight — report that its stimulation leads to more intense orgasms.
12. Oral and Anal Sex Are Safer than Vaginal Sex
While oral and anal sex may not result in pregnancy (and oral sex is generally considered the least likely of the bunch to spread HIV), you can still give and receive plenty of STIs from either act.
Different options mean different risks, not necessarily fewer. The safest thing is to be sure you and your partner get tested regularly (rectal STI testing included, if that’s on the table), and, of course, use condoms.
13. A Boner Always Means a Guy Wants Sex (And Vice Versa)
Guys with penises can become hard at random times for random reasons, especially throughout puberty. Spontaneous erections might be embarrassing, but they’re normal, and sometimes have nothing to do with how aroused someone is.
The most common example is nocturnal penile tumescence — a.k.a. morning wood — which happens after the brain enters REM sleep, and isn’t tied to the sexiness of your dreams.
On the flip side, not getting hard doesn’t necessarily mean a man isn’t into getting down. Alcohol and pot can temper things, for example. Erectile dysfunction is also very common, affecting 15 to 30 million men in the US.
Moral of the story: Desire is more complicated than the physical evidence lets on.
14. Boys in Relationships Are Whipped
In contemporary slang, the term “whipped” is almost always used to refer to a man being “controlled” by his girlfriend.
It’s inherently sexist (if you have any doubt, check out its Urban Dictionary synonyms), as it implies that the default state of affairs is for men to keep women in their place.
But caring about someone, committing to that person and considering their wishes before doing something is really just what it means to be in a relationship. Respect yourself and respect your partner, regardless of what anyone else says.
15. If She Doesn’t Say No, That Means Yes
There’s so much shame and stigma surrounding sexuality that talking about consent might feel awkward, especially when you’re young. We need to get over this, because those are the most important conversations we can have.
From the White House’s recent task force to curb sexual violence on college campuses, to student protests across the country, it’s clear that sexual assault remains an enormous problem for young men and women. Ignorance is no excuse.
We need to teach both boys and girls to be clear in their intentions, and always to respect one anothers’ bodily autonomy.
This starts by emphasizing the following, no matter your gender: No means no. The absence of a clear “yes” also means no. Alcohol and clothing choices do not equal consent.
And no one is ever obligated to have sex with anyone else. Ever.
16. Women (and Their Genitals) Are Complicated and Terrifying
Contrary to popular belief, the female orgasm is not some elusive, mythical unicorn of sex.
Can it be difficult for many women to finish? Absolutely. But constantly telling guys (and girls) that getting a woman off is some Herculean task is just setting them up for anxiety and failure.
Rather than simply providing the most basic, clinical explanations of how babies are made, sex ed would do well to more comprehensively demystify body parts for people of all genders.
And because everyone is a bit different down there, we should teach everyone to comfortably communicate with their partners about what they like and don’t like. It’s a skill that will serve them well throughout the rest of their lives, both in and out of the bedroom.
17. Boys Are Not Allowed to Wait
Because men are stereotyped as constantly having sex on their minds, many expect everyone around them to be doing it.
Cultural norms dictate that all boys should be eager to lose it to the first willing person who comes along, but that’s not true.
Just like many women enjoy casual sex, many men don’t. Some men prefer to wait, and some do not experience sexual attraction at all.
Planned Parenthood reports that as many as 1 in 4 men are not sexually active by age 19. Boys may also exaggerate their experience level or number of partners; in one survey of 1,200 boys and young men age 15 to 22, 30% lied about “how far they had gone” and 78% said that they felt overly pressured by society to have sex.
Not having sex doesn’t make someone less of a man, because who you are is not contingent on who you’re sleeping with. It’s really no one else’s business.
To learn more about the toxic messages for girls, read 17 Lies We Need to Stop Teaching Girls About Sex.
Julianne Ross is an editor at Mic covering feminism, sexuality, body image and culture. Her writing has appeared in TheAtlantic.com and Boston.com. Follow her on Twitter @JulianneRoss.